Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Second Report


118. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are summarised below:

    (a)  We recommend that, when the next round of appointments is due to be made, particular efforts are made to attract high calibre candidates from sections of the community which are presently under-represented on the Parades Commission. (Paragraph 23).

    (b)  It is clear that only a small proportion of the parades held by loyalists or by nationalists are considered by the Commission to require either route restrictions or conditions. (Paragraph 30).

    (c)  Although the 'parades issue' is frequently seen as monolithic, sectarian parades, whether loyalist or nationalist, differ markedly in character, depending on their purpose. The Mediation Network identified three principal types, namely:
  • church parades - parades either preceded or followed by a church service;
  • commemorative parades - parades which commemorate a particular event, such as 12 July or St Patrick's Day;
    • band parades - parades, overwhelmingly in the loyalist tradition, which include those organised by bands themselves, frequently for the purpose of raising funds, but also include a much wider spectrum of events.

The information is available to sustain an analysis of the extent to which each category of parade is subject to route restrictions and conditions. We recommend that the Commission includes an appropriate table in its Annual Reports. (Paragraph 32).

    (d)  The majority of the evidence we received clearly indicated that there would be general advantage in engagement between the Orange institutions and the Commission. A useful first step might be for Grand Lodge to spell out the specific barriers it sees to engagement, and suggest how the Commission and others might act to overcome them. (Paragraph 47).

    (e)  The Mediation Network suggested that the Commission should seek to define the parades conflict more clearly. It commented that "a simple exposition of the issues" would be helpful in stimulating a more productive debate. It sees the root of parades disputes as twofold: the relationship or social order between paraders and opponents may have broken down, or it may have been unhealthy in the first place. It identifies five specific dimensions to the parades conflict - religious, political, public order, social and economic, and communal, and suggests that "the Parades Commission could usefully generate discussion and offer support to those concerned with each of these dimensions so that, at all the essential levels of society, a more focussed discussion could take root in both public and private discourse." It recognises, though, that "establishing a new consensual social order between the traditions of Northern Ireland regarding parades is a long term process, stretching beyond the tenure of the present Commission." It might be that progress along these lines would assist the Orange Institutions in engaging with the Commission.(Paragraph 48).

    (f)  We have seen a summary of the audit of the relationship between the RUC and the Parades Commission. We welcome this review and would encourage both bodies to build on its conclusions. (Paragraph 63).

    (g)  We note the positive attitude taken by the RUC to assisting those wishing to give notice of parades or protest meetings. The requirement to give notice to an officer of the rank of sergeant or above was not a new requirement in the 1998 Act; a similar requirement had been included in the 1987 public order legislation. No evidence has been submitted to us that this requirement was also a difficulty under that legislation. (Paragraph 65).

    (h)  We have carefully considered the arguments for and against returning responsibility for issuing determinations to the police. On balance, we believe that there are advantages in separating the power of determination from responsibility for policing a parade, not least because the range of the statutory criteria to be considered in relation to issuing a determination was significantly broadened by the 1998 Act beyond pure public order considerations. (Paragraph 68).

    (i)  It is clear from the terms of reference of the Northern Ireland Office's 1999 review of the Commission that the Government intended the scope of the review to be limited. Its limited conclusions should not have come as a surprise to anybody. It would have been helpful, though, if the Government had made clear its intention to abandon the proposal to bring forward the date of application of the Human Rights Act 1998 to parades legislation. (Paragraph 71).

    (j)  Whether or not individual witnesses saw the Authorised Officers of the Commission as successful, they clearly have a key part to play in its work. Given their change of status, when they come under the control of the Commission rather than the Mediation Network, it seems likely that they be perceived as more associated with the Commission than before. This may impact on their acceptability as mediators. We therefore recommend that the Commission should not use them to report on parades, but should employ separate staff for this purpose, as the Mediation Network has already suggested. Also, arrangements for their supervision should ensure that Commissioners who have overseen mediation work should not play an active part in decisions on parades to which that work relates. (Paragraph 78).

    (k)  We view with some concern the Chairman's view that the Commission's procedures in relation to decisions on parades may be open to challenge on the grounds of natural justice. We recommend that the Government and the Commission consider urgently whether the procedures need to be improved by greater transparency and, if so, to put the necessary steps in hand. (Paragraph 83).

    (l)  Disclosures of sensitive personal information may be very damaging in the Northern Ireland context, in whichever direction. We greatly regret that any such disclosures have taken place in the past and recommend that every effort is made by the Commission to seek to prevent recurrences. Not only may such disclosures unnecessarily expose the persons concerned to enhanced levels of personal risk, they may also contribute to a reinforcement of perceptions in the community concerned about the competence of the Commission. (Paragraph 86).

    (m)  We recommend that, as a matter of policy, the Commission sends official observers to all parades in respect of which a determination has been made. (Paragraph 96).

    (n)  The Commission saw a number of practical difficulties with the concept of linkage of parades, rather than always considering them separately as the current legislation requires, not least because it appeared to mean different things to different people. It has, however, considered the matter further and concluded that it would be helpful if it had a power enabling it to make general policy statements in relation to individual contentious areas only. We recommend that the Government examine this proposal carefully. (Paragraph 98).

    (o)  The greatest contribution to enhancing the level of prosecution of offences under the Act would clearly be to improve the evidential base. We have already recommended that the Commission should seek to have observers present at all parades in respect of which a determination has been issued. One logical function of such observers would be to report to the Commission on the conduct of the parade, thus reducing its reliance on police reports. (Paragraph 101).

    (p)  As the Northern Ireland Office commented, the position on human rights is complex. We are grateful for the two memoranda we have received on this subject, which bear out the very real complexities and uncertainties. It seems likely, therefore, that the courts may have to decide on some important matters, such as the balance between the various rights, and the scope for their restriction on the grounds of a wider public interest. Although the Chairman of the Commission expressed doubts over the present need for it to have the power to assist litigants, we recommend that consideration be given to enabling the Commission to contribute to the legal costs of parties taking cases that raise points of general importance in relation to the clarification of the application to parades of human rights law. (Paragraph 106).

    (q)  We intend to continue to take a close interest in the work of the Commission. (Paragraph 114).

    (r)  In view of the significance attached to the issue of parades to both traditions in Northern Ireland, and the impact of some parades disputes on community relations across the Province, we recommend that this Report be debated by the House. (Paragraph 117).

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Prepared 11 April 2001