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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Richard Monteith, LL B[3]

  Thank you for your letter of 3 August. I enclose herewith some submissions concerning the Parades Commission inquiry. I understand that you will receive other submissions from Portadown District LOL No 1 and others within the Orange Institution.

  I do not propose to voice any opinions as to whether the Parades Commission should have been created or whether having been created it should now be terminated. It appears that the terms of reference for the Committee are such that neither of the above will be considered and you are proceeding from the presumption that the Parades Commission will continue.

  I will take as my starting point the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 and the review of same which had findings announced on 16 February 2000.

  I made personal and written representations to Susan Scholefield concerning the review of the Parades Commission. I met her on 25 November 1999 and wrote briefly on 29 November 1999. In summary, the review of the Parades Commission should have considered the following:

  1.  That the composition of the Parades Commission should reflect:

    (a)  the general population in Northern Ireland; and

    (b)  those with an interest in the parading tradition.

  It was entirely inappropriate to have the Parades Commission made up from those who would denote themselves as Nationalists and those who have no sympathy or affiliation with the parading tradition. It was quite inappropriate that the Commission have no members upon it who were directly connected with the one issue ie that of parades, with which it exclusively dealt.

  2.  Not enough emphasis was placed upon traditional parades and particularly traditional church parades. There had to be a particular recognition for traditional church parades.

  3.  The question of mediation as opposed to constant determinations should have been addressed by the Parades Commission and they should have actually supervised mediation efforts. Prior to any well known contentious parades, there should have been an eight week period of mediation directly supervised by the Parades Commission. All parties should have been requested to have had an input into that process, failing which adverse inferences could have been drawn. The direct involvement of the Commission would have allowed it to have seen whether or not there were firstly any legitimate concerns and secondly whether or not those actual legitimate concerns had been properly addressed by those wishing to parade. A set process with a set focused timetable would have prevented prevarication by any parties.

  The Public Processions Northern Ireland Act 1998 in section 2 set out the duties of the Parades Commission. I would state that none of the conditions in section 2(1) have been fulfilled. In particular section 2(1)(b) has never been carried out.

  When the Secretary of State announced the findings of the Review on 16 February 2000, he suggested the Human Rights Act may have been brought in prior to 2 October 2000 but this aspect has never been introduced. It formed a major part of his comments on the review but in reality nothing happened.

  The review commented that the Commission could do more to heighten awareness of mediation including its own network of local Authorised Officers. It could also provide a guide on all forms of third party intervention in the parades issues, including a list of those willing to help. With regard to my particular interest, namely Portadown, nothing has been done in that regard. Nothing has been done to take on board any of the recommendations or suggestions I made as part of the review.

  More significantly, the Parades Commission actually ignored efforts that the Portadown District had made between July 1999 and July 2000. The determinations issued for the parades on 2 July and 9 July 2000 by the Parades Commission simply reinforced the veto which the Parades Commission have given to the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition. The Commission denies that there is such a veto but reality shows to the contrary.

  Firstly the Commission did nothing to promote any mediation between the two sides in Portadown.

  Secondly the Commission thereby failed in its statutory duty towards the parties in Portadown.

  Thirdly the Commission gave no due regard to the efforts made by Portadown District in a variety of processes conducted by Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister, Frank Blair, George Howarth MP, Adam Ingram MP and Brian Currin.

  Fourthly the Commission paid no proper regard to the contact between it and its members and myself and David Campbell (Chief of Staff to the First Minister David Trimble).

  Fifthly the Commission really requires direct negotiations between Portadown District and Brendan McCionnaith and his unelected self appointed Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition. The Commission says that that is the way forward and it should be face to face, not direct or indirect negotiations or dialogue. The Commission of course does not live in Portadown and has in reality given self-appointed ex-terrorists (presumably ex-terrorists) the right to determine who walks along a portion of a main road into the principal town in County Armagh. Those walking along the road are coming from a Church Service. They are coming in total silence. They are coming without any music or banners or shows of triumphalism.

  The above is just a tiny glimpse into the practical position and the real lack of effectiveness of the Parades Commission. The Commission can argue that most parades in Northern Ireland do not require any consideration by it at all. However it must be judged by how it deals with the difficult parades and Portadown is seen as the most difficult parade. The Commission made a determination in 1998 to "break the cycle". That meant it stopped the parade in 1998. Having broken the cycle, the Commission has done nothing to repair the break. It continues to leave not only a broken cycle but a broken town and a broken country. The Commission is quick to say that it is up to the two parties to resolve the matter. Those who take the decisions have to bear the responsibilities for the outcome of their own decisions.

  In view of the above I would state that the operation of the Commission since its inception has therefore been flawed and the reason for that is because of the basis upon which it makes its decisions. I have seen the submissions to you of the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland and would adopt those as part of my own submissions. Parliament must regain control of a body which it has set up but over which it has absolutely no control. The only form of control is by way of Judicial Review to the High Court in Northern Ireland and that can only be done if any of the decisions of the Body are manifestly unreasonable and ill-founded. The requisite standard is a very high one and their decisions are currently virtually unassailable.

  The Human Rights Act may well have some impact but that again remains to be seen.

  Self-appointed ex-terrorists like McCionnaith can protest against parades and in the background have a threat of Republican violence hanging over any decisions. It is accepted that those on parade have never been guilty of violent conduct or behaviour. The violence comes from protestors and the perception is that the threat of greater violence particularly from Republicans with the threats of bomb attacks in England prevail.

  If the Parades Commission remains and is to be effective it must itself control the mediation process and be active in it. Use of local authorised Officers is entirely ineffective and I quote one personal example to make this point. I met with the two local authorised Officers to deal with the Somme Anniversary Parade to take place in Lurgan on the 1st July 2000. The authorised Officers were told that such Parades had gone on for over thirty years. In a determination subsequently restricting the Somme Commemoration Parade, the Parades Commission referred to the fact that the Parade was a very recent origin and had only been going on for a few years. No one in the Commission had received any evidence other than that given by the authorised Officers. Therefore the information that was passed was totally wrong.

  Those wishing to challenge any determination do not have access to any information passed to the Commission by the authorised Officers, the Police or any other parties. It is argued that those wishing the challenge or make representations do not have a fair hearing and that all parties should make their representations in the presence of each other and that all documents, materials and representations be open to all properly constituted parrties. It is clear that the Commission receives from the self appointed their own selective views, words and opinions which are really without proper scrutiny or challenge. Having received these the Commission then makes by an unknown process an unaccountable determination which has the potential to catapult the entire Country into complete disorder.

  In conclusion Parliament should regain control over the Parades Commission. It is appreciated that the issues of parades is a difficult one in Northern Ireland, but to pass complete control over parades to a non-elected, non-accountable body is tantamount to failing to govern. Each July there is the risk of complete community breakdown merely because the Parades Commission declines to allow some Orangemen to walk in silence back from Church. Church parades should be permitted along traditional routes. The Parades Commission can only become more effective if the suggestions I have already made together with the proper recognition for Church parades. Parades concerning band contests or others that can be seen as carrying triumphal emblems and displays require more careful scrutiny.

  If the Commission remains, for it to be effective it must be establishing ways in which parades can take place, as opposed to merely banning them because ex-republican terrorists threaten disorder.

3   For the oral evidence given by Mr Monteith, in his capacity as Legal Adviser to Portadown District Loyal Orange Lodge No 1, see Ev pp 159 to 166. Back

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