Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520 - 539)



  520. My last point under this heading: the Ulster Bands Association tell me that they started to seek a meeting with the Commission at the end of October and had no reply for three months. They have now been given a tentative date of a meeting for March 14th. Why did it take the Commission three months to reply to a request for the meeting?
  (Mr Holland) I cannot answer that question, I will have to let you know in a written answer[2].
  (Mr Cousins) If I can throw some light on that: because of my background in education and youth development, I expressed an interest to meet again with the Ulster Bands Association because I think they do very positive work in the area of youth development, apart from expressing part of that work through their culture. We have offered them, as far as I am aware, through our officials a number of times and dates and they have not been able to meet those dates. For my part, as a person, one of the two Commissioners who is going to meet them, I have said I will meet them at any time, evening or during the day, or at any place. My understanding now is that an arrangement has been made.

  521. On a different front, one of the duties of the Commission is to keep under review the operation of the Public Processions Act 1998. How does the Commission do this? What recommendations has the Commission made to the Secretary of State in respect of its operations in the last 12 months?
  (Mr Holland) This Commission has made no recommendations to the Secretary of State over the last twelve months. As yet we have not felt sufficiently informed to recommend anything in terms of changing the legislation. We are actually going away shortly, in fact next week, to look at this issue of whether we believe there should be any amendments made to the legislation. There are obviously a number of things that one could consider, which may come out in questions later on. The Commission felt at this stage, after only effectively 12 months, it would be premature for us to say do this, do that. It is a very long haul, the nature of an operation like this. There is a great temptation, if you like in planting terms, to pull up the roots of plant to see how it is growing. If you do that in the end the plant dies. The view of the Commission at the moment is that there is nothing sufficiently pressing for them to write to the Secretary of State about.

  522. Automatically you would be keeping under review the operation of the Act?
  (Mr Holland) All of the time, I cannot say throughout the summer months we are discussing the minutiae of how we are operating. Certainly in the winter months we kept on meeting every week, except for January, as a full Commission to discuss a variety of issues, including the way in which we operate and whether we can improve it, and so on.

  Mr Hunter: Thank you very much.

Mr Robinson

  523. Good afternoon, Mr Holland and gentlemen. I think the second row is part of the Commission as well.
  (Mr Holland) They are members of the staff who have come along to assist. Mr Elliott is right behind me; the Secretary of the Commission, who replaced David Hill, who replaced Heather Robinson, who replaced Richard Buchanan. We have had four secretaries. On his left is Dr Michael Boyle, who is the number two at the Commission; next to him is Richard Gordon, who is the Commission's media adviser and next to him is Deirdre Ward.

  524. We are not a very good example, Mr Holland, but your organisation does not seem to be gender proved either?
  (Mr Holland) All I can say about that is I had no hand in controlling the appointment of the Commission; that was dealt with by the Secretary of State. As to the staff, I think there are three men and five women.

  525. You give the women the work. In part of the response you gave to the Chairman, there was a reference to the promotion of mediation. As you indicated in your remarks you have now been in place for about 12 months. I wonder specifically if you can tell us what steps the Commission has taken during that 12 month period regarding the promotion and facilitation of mediation where disputes are expected?
  (Mr Holland) We have done an awful lot actually, sometimes more than perhaps we should have done. We are arbitrators, of course, we must not mediate and yet of course we have an inbuilt nature, an inbuilt desire, to see mediation succeed. We have the use of the Mediation Network of Northern Ireland and their Authorised Officers act on our behalf in relation to different areas where the parades take place. In fact we have made certain changes and alterations in the structure in the way we work with them for this forthcoming season. That is the background. We meet with them every month collectively, both the Commission and all the Authorised Officers, to keep up to date with what they are doing on the ground. Also, we meet with a large number of people, again I do not want to identify who they are in some cases because I think it would be unhelpful to do so. There are two particular areas where, of course, we realise that special efforts are required, one is Portadown and the other is the Lower Ormeau. In relation to the former, we spent some time in September devising a plan which we thought might be able to help the appointed mediator, Brian Curran, and we obviously passed that to him and in every way support what he is trying to do with his own arrangements in that context as well as what we have given to him. In relation to Lower Ormeau, we had a different approach. Indeed, in the written information you have been sent by Andrew Elliott, you will see reference to the Avila Kilmurray meetings that took place between the LOCC and the ABOD. You will recognise from David Hoey's evidence on behalf of the ABOD that he thought that procedure was well on the way to producing a solution. The minutes that I have sent you, the extract—the last ten pages of the last set of minutes, there are 1,100 pages to read, by the way, but I have only sent you the last ten—indicates that in fact that is not exactly the impression you gather from reading those last ten pages. As a result we thought "Well, this probably is not going to work in relation to the Lower Ormeau" so we then appointed two other persons extraneous to the previous exercise to see if they could have any success. At the moment it does not look too promising but we are not entirely bereft of hope. Those two people were, it could be said, not mediators so much as negotiators. I do not want to carry on about a semantic meaning of words here because we were certainly pushing our luck, in a way. We were trying to be different and we were trying to get an alternative approach. The final thing, of course, was the terms of the decisions themselves in relation to those two areas. In relation to the Portadown area in July, we went to great lengths to write a far different determination from that which had previously been written. It was some 15 pages long and I followed up actually with a piece in a newsletter two days afterwards trying to set out a route map. That article, actually, went perilously close, I believe, perhaps far closer than I ever intended for an arbitrator to be doing. The same applies to the decision that was made about the LOCC march and the ABOD march in the Lower Ormeau Road in August where we again spelt out perhaps more than we should have done. Those are our attempts to try and get progress made.

  526. Could I explore how the Commission is discharging one of the other functions you have, which is the duty to keep yourselves generally informed in terms of the conduct of public processions and protest meetings. How do you actually do that? Is there a rota for members to go out to meetings? Do you have meetings with the police about them? What way is it done?
  (Mr Holland) There is not a formal rota. All members of the Commission of course live here, with the exception of myself—and I have referred to this in the written papers, I spend about 25 per cent of my time in Northern Ireland and only 15 per cent of my time in Plymouth, I might add—they all go and meet people within the Province. I myself also go out and talk to various people within the Province. They all, myself included, have seen parades over the past 12 months. I do not make a practice of going to every parade, I think that would be unhelpful. Also, with the Commission, I discuss the police reports that we get. We have monitors in place now who inform us as well as to what happens, as well as the meetings with the Authorised Officers. We spend a considerable amount of time keeping ourselves informed. We need to because, frankly, it is the nuances of what is happening, if you like, on the ground which often come out perhaps only four or five or perhaps ten days before a determination has to be made which can change the whole approach. We can learn perhaps that there is a serious chance that in fact something can happen by consent in a particular area. We learn that from Authorised Officers, from members of the Commission who are always informed of these things, more than I am informed personally because, of course, the other 60 odd per cent of my time I am in London.

  527. I assume that the Commission will probably be taking a closer watching brief in areas where at least there might be some indication that there is greater controversy and indeed where a determination has been issued to bury the request for a parade or a protest meeting.
  (Mr Holland) Yes. We have, I suppose, what someone calls the five starred contentious areas where we know there are certain problems which could arise. In that area we do, in fact, make more effort to keep ourselves informed of change, because it is so important, but we gradually minimise the number of areas rather than see them increase.

  528. When you apply a condition to a parade, what is the mechanism that you employ to ensure that condition has been kept?
  (Mr Holland) The monitors are our primary source of information, after the parade has taken place, as to whether there has been a breach, as are the police reports. We put a condition on a particular parade but we have no control over whether or not the police then prosecute: they decide whether they want to refer that to the DPP and obviously then the decision is made by the DPP. I think I am not revealing any confidences if I say that sometimes the Commission is concerned that some of the conditions are not complied with and yet not a lot seems to happen, but we have no control over that. The monitors, of course, keep us more informed about that, it is not just the ultimate sanction. We can, of course, look at the parade next time round and see what happened but it is a bit difficult when you do that in terms of what the "evidence" is as to what happened last time. You have to be very careful you do not rely on hearsay.

  529. It might be useful to say, just so that we do not rely on hearsay, that it has been asserted to the Committee that in the context of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community that there is something of a contrived events scenario built up.
  (Mr Holland) A contrived events scenario?

  530. Yes?
  (Mr Holland) By the LOCC?

  531. Which would coincide with the parades which they are expecting to go down the Ormeau Road. For instance, it was contended that the LOCC notified for Friday 11th August for the purpose of unveiling a new mural. The application said that 2,000 people would participate and the march would last from 7.15 pm to 11.59 pm. Your determination, I understand, restricted it to 7.15 pm to 8.00 pm. Can you tell us, did that take place? Did 2,000 people attend? Were the Commission representatives present? Was a new mural unveiled?
  (Mr Holland) I cannot tell you how many attended. I want to be fairly circumspect about what I say about this particular area at the moment because, of course, there is a probable determination coming up which I want, if I can, to avoid discussing for obvious reasons today in any way which would actually create problems. As far as I am aware that parade, or that meeting, to unveil that mural never took place. To specifically answer your question, do I think things are contrived? Speaking for myself, in a word, yes.


  532. It might be right if I briefly intervened to remind the Chairman that if at any stage he wants to give confidential, supplementary evidence which would not see the light of day he should feel entirely free to do so.
  (Mr Holland) Thank you, Chairman.

Mr Robinson

  533. What impact, I take it outside the specific issue that I raised, where a Loyal Order would have conditions set as a restriction on their right to march in certain areas, or where the LOCC or any other residents' group might have some condition applied to them and they break that, what impact does that have when the Commission look at future requests from that body?
  (Mr Holland) Quite a serious impact. I can only speak about one I can consciously remember, because we make so many determinations in a year; there was band that misbehaved, there was very clear misbehaviour, and they were prohibited from taking part in the subsequent parade in that area.

  534. Without getting into the detail of any application that you might have before you at the present time, it would be wrong for anybody to contend to the Committee that, for instance, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community could stage, for the purposes of tying your hands, an event, then not go ahead with it and simply get off with it?
  (Mr Holland) If anybody makes an application for a parade then does not have it the suggestion cannot be then said that it has not been contrived.

Mr Barnes

  535. I want to pursue the question of when mediation is not mediation, because in answer to Peter Robinson you seem to suggest that there were certain circumstances in which, because of the complexity of the situation, you might be stretching your brief occasionally. The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act states that you can take such steps outside mediation, as a Commission, to be appropriate to resolving disputes. To what extent does the Commission see its role as resolving parades disputes whenever possible? How do they interpret that section of the legislation?
  (Mr Holland) I think we know that ultimately we are an arbitrator, and like any arbitrator or judge if they descend into the arena too much they invalidate the process and contaminate it. The problem is, of course, there is a tremendous desire on the part of the Commission to see mediation succeed, and to see, as I said earlier, when I first started, the parading culture of Northern Ireland enhanced. Therefore there is a great desire to help and thereby trespass over into the bounds of mediation. We did last year take the risk of issuing a Drumcree decision in quite a different format, and the same with the Lower Ormeau. In that particular piece in the newspaper which I sent to the Committee to read, you will see how far we were out on a limb. We could not go any further than that. We would not even go as far as that this year. We were a new Commission desperately trying to see if we could make some progress.

  536. Presumably these areas are not easily definable and the answer is to be as open as possible about what it is that you are engaged in in order that the rest of us accept what you are doing is actually in line with the legislation?
  (Mr Martin) If I can just say at this stage, I have had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to meet with cross community groups, those groups being members of the CPLCs in Belfast, where you have a lot of people, particularly community workers on those particular committees, who have been trying to make progress across communities and the Commission has been given the opportunity to go on and explain the work that it does and to answer any relevant questions and take back any comments or queries that those particular individuals would raise. That we have found, or at least I have found, to be extremely beneficial.

  537. What sort of responses have you got in particular cases?
  (Mr Martin) I believe it has created a situation where those individuals were encouraged to be equally committed or more committed than they had been to try and bring about a resolution to particular conflict within their areas.

  538. Thank you. The Commission's statutory Code of Conduct, procedures, rules and guidelines were last revised in July 1999. What representations has the Commission received concerning these documents and from whom would these representations come?
  (Mr Holland) I am not aware of any representations being made during the tenancy of this Commission in its present role. If there has been I will write to you about that[3]. I am not aware of any having been made.

  539. Have you, therefore, considered the issue? Do you have any idea, even without representations, of where revisions might take place?
  (Mr Holland) On the guidelines and the procedure?

2   See Appendix 20, p 298. Back

3   See Appendix 20, p 298. Back

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