Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Christopher Luke

  I understand that Members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee are about to investigate the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, and wish to submit the following evidence.

  May I firstly appeal to Committee Members to take time to read the booklet The Order On Parade by Graham Montgomery & Richard Whitten (published by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Education Committee and available from the House of Orange, 65 Dublin Road, Belfast, BT2 7HE) as background information to their investigation: the Apprentice Boys of Derry and British Commonwealth Royal Black Institution parade for similar reasons to those proffered by Messrs Montgomery and Whitten as to why the Orange Order demonstrates. I would further recommend that they read the booklet Let The Orange Banners Speak by Pastor Alan Campbell (published by, and available from, Open-Bible Ministries, P.O. Box 92, Belfast, BT5 7SA) and The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Protrait of the Loyal Institutions by Dublin-born Roman Catholic author Ruth Dudley-Edwards (published by Harper Collins Publishers, and available from all good booksellers).

  Secondly, as a Member of both the British Commonwealth Royal Black Institution and the Loyal Orange Institution of England who frequently participate in parades in Northern Ireland, one cannot help feeling how ironic it is that townies are to be given "the right to roam" over privately-owned rural land in England and Wales—under proposals contained in the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill [now before Parliament]—when Members of the Loyal Orders (ie, The Apprentice Boys of Derry, British Commonwealth Royal Black Institution and the Loyal Orange Institution) are simultaneously being denied the right to walk public roads and highways in many parts of Northern Ireland, thanks to the dictates of the Parades Commission.

  There are four points to be made here:—

  (I). There is deep suspicion in Northern Ireland—particularly in Pro-Union circles—that the Parades Commission was established to face down the Loyal Orders who, over the years, have provided a valuable role in maintaining the rule of law within the Protestant Community and providing valuable training for many individuals in the administration of community affairs/events and representation of local communities in the absence of meaningful local government. [The Committee will, no doubt, be aware that the powers and responsibilites of the Province's 26 local authorities rarely exceed those of largely impotent English Parish Councils, and that successive UK Government attempts to re-establish devolved government in Northern Ireland have failed . . . largely, I would suggest, due to their insistence on permanent compulsory coalition government being a prerequisite for devolution].

  Added to that, there is a widespread distrust of quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations in general—particularly since the establishment of the Anglo-Irish (now British-Irish) Intergovernmental Conference and Secretariat in November 1985—when successive Governments of the Irish Republic have had a major say in persons appointed to serve on such quangos as, no matter how impartial or well-intentioned quango members may be, many Pro-Union voters regard members of such bodies as being the stooges of a hostile foreign government, particularly the Parades Commission which appears to be accountable to no-one and a law unto itself.

  (II). It never made sense to establish a Commission which, on one hand, is responsible for adjudicating on contentious parades, whilst on the other being responsible for mediation between communities with conflicting opinions on whether parades should be allowed to proceed, as conflict will arise between its adjudicating and mediating roles. It also has to be said that the Parades Commission's remit has been so broad that it is seen as policing by quango and above the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Rulings of the Parades Commission have frequently been draconian and often compromised the Loyal Orders' right to freedom of movement, freedom of religion and worship, freedom of speech and publication, and freedom of assembly and association for a lawful purpose: rulings which may well be the subject of legal challenges in the courts following the implementation of the 1998 Human Rights Act (incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law) in October this year. If overturned in the courts, the Parades Commission's earlier rulings may result in huge amounts of rate-and-taxpayers' money being squandered on legal costs, etc, and ever-decreasing public confidence in the Commission by the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.

  (III). There is no such thing as a "Catholic area" of Northern Ireland any more than there is such a thing as a "Protestant area", although both republican and self-styled "loyalist" terrorists used their religious identities to institutionalise sectarianism in the Province. Members of the Loyal Orders do not pass through "Catholic areas" although they frequently pass by residential areas dominated by adherents of the Roman Catholic faith. Population changes may themselves alter the composition of residential areas which members of the Loyal Orders pass by en-route to the destination of their demonstration on public roads and highways they and their forefathers have walked for generations. Nevertheless, preventing one religious sect from parading past another only creates "no-go areas" and establishes cultural apartheid—reinforced by prejudice and fear—not a pluralist society in which cultural and/or racial diversity is recognised and respected. Members in all the Loyal Orders and accompanying bands parade under strict rules which provide for immediate suspension or, in severe cases, expulsion from either the bands/Loyal Orders themselves and/or future parades if their behaviour does not meet prescribed codes of conduct. The Parades Commission has consistently failed to appreciate these facts.

  (IV). Open-air parades, rallies, religious services, etc, are not confined to Northern Ireland—as vividly demonstated in the annual City of London District Loyal Orange Lodge Parades, Gay Pride walk and Notting Hill Carnival: all of which take place not far from the House of Commons, and/or the Durham Miners' Gala which also takes place annually close to both Tony Blair's and Peter Mandelson's constituencies, and which some people would argue are equally—if not more—contentious as many of the parades in Northern Ireland, yet there is no analogous body to regulate public processions either in England or, for that matter, elsewhere in the United Kingdom. This seems to imply that Northern Ireland is unique in needing such a body to police such activities. You may or may not be aware that, prior to—and following—the triennial meeting of the Imperial Grand Orange Council of the World in Liverpool this coming July, Orange parades are scheduled to take place in Liverpool; one could argue therefore, that there is a case for a UK-wide Parades Commission or analogous bodies to the Northern Ireland Parades Commission being established in England, Scotland and Wales, although neither is the road I would go down.

  Properly marketed by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board et al, the "Relief of Derry", "Black Saturday" and "Twelfth of July" parades and demonstrations in the Province have the potential to become major tourist attractions and bring much-needed job-creation and inward investment to Northern Ireland as, already, many members of the Loyal Orders and their families (usually resident in England, Scotland and Wales) participate in parades and/or take holidays in the Province. It is a tragedy that, whilst the overwhelming majority of parades in Northern Ireland pass off peacefully (without incident), a minority have become a cause for terrorists—masquerading as "concerned community/residents" groups—to vociferously oppose such processions and incite hatred between and within communities.

  New Labour claims to be committed to equality of opportunity for all British citizens. That being so, at a time when it is naively affording ramblers and walkers the right to roam, I urge the Committee to press HMG to disband the Parades Commission and repeal the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act, to allow members of the Loyal Orders the right to march. It is also galling to see HMG introducing legislation to disband the Royal Ulster Constabulary—which has defended all the people of Northern Ireland (of all faiths and none) from terrorism—when it seems quite prepared to sustain and strengthen the hand of the Parades Commission which, like so many innovations arising from the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, many believe to be a reward for the perpetrators of terrorism over law-abiding members of the Loyal Orders whose liberties it seeks to curtail; hence HMG's priority should be to disband the Parades Commission not the RUC.

23 March 2000

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