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


Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland Unionist Party

  The Northern Ireland Unionist Party (NIUP) welcomes your invitation to submit written evidence to the enquiry into the Parades Commission by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee.

  The position of the NIUP is that the Parades Commission should not be "enhanced" but rather abolished. The reason for this position may be outlined as follows.

  The core function of government is to maintain public order and to protect the basic rights and freedom of citizens. The right to use the public thoroughfare for inherently lawful activity is a fundamental right of citizens in a democratic and law-governed state.

  The routes used by the Loyal Orders in their parades are public thoroughfares and the Loyal Order parades are inherently lawful activities. These are indisputable propositions that entail an obvious corollary. The corollary is that action by government or an agency of government to prohibit members of the Loyal Orders from using their traditional (that is, long established) routes for Loyal Order parades that are inherently lawful is a fundamental breach of their basic rights as citizens of the United Kingdom.

  But that is precisely what the Parades Commission has done on numerous occasions since the Commission was established in 1998. This means that the Parades Commission is in principle and in effect operating as an unelected and unaccountable instrument to deprive law-abiding citizens and lawful organisations of their fundamental rights.

  These considerations mean that the law passed by Parliament to establish the Parades Commission is itself a corruption of legality in the normative and evaluative sense of that word and therefore a gross abuse of the legislative sovereignty of Parliament. Unfortunately, citizens in the United Kingdom (and specifically in Northern Ireland) have no redress against this abuse of legislative sovereignty by Parliament. But in, for example, the United States it is beyond dispute that the law that established the Parades Commission would not be permitted by the US Constitution.

  The Parades Commission is therefore at its legal root an affront to law-abiding citizens and law-abiding organisations such as the Loyal Orders. The radical unacceptability of the Parades Commission is reinforced by at least two other considerations. The first consideration is the well-grounded perception in Northern Ireland that the Parades Commission was established in response to (and indeed as an appeasement of) Irish nationalist threats to public order. Sinn Fein/IRA orchestrated this Irish nationalist threat to public order on the basis of a Sinn Fein/IRA strategy to provoke public confrontation and agitation in the pursuit of their political objectives.

  The second consideration is that the Parades Commission effectively operates on the basis of the attempt to impose on the members of the Loyal Orders a requirement that no self-regarding citizen should feel under the slightest obligation to meet. The requirement that seems to be central to the activity of the Parades Commission is that representatives of the Loyal Orders must actually negotiate their right to the use of public thoroughfares in circumstances where this use is contested under a threat of violence.

  What is the problem with the attempt to require law-abiding citizens to negotiate the right to use a public thoroughfare? The first problem in the case of Northern Ireland is that the Parades Commission is in effect demanding that the representatives of the Loyal Orders should conduct these negotiations with convicted terrorists who currently act on behalf of Sinn Fein/IRA. This is, quite simply, an intolerable demand that itself is sufficient (apart from the fact that the Parades Commission exists on the basis of a corruption of legality) to put the Loyal Orders in a position of legitimately refusing to deal with the Parades Commission.

  But there is an even more fundamental second consideration implicit throughout our submission. The consideration is that in a State in which legality is informed by the protection of the rights of citizens there should never be any question of citizens having to negotiate their right to use the public thoroughfare. The function of government or the State is not to resolve political disagreement between citizens. The function of government is to ensure that political disagreement between citizens is conducted within the constraints of law designed to protect and enhance the freedom and rights of citizens. The operation and stability of a democratic system of government crucially requires that citizens agree to conduct their political disagreements within a framework of law that exists to protect/safeguard their rights as citizens.

  The framework of law to which all citizens must comply in a democracy will include the rights of citizens to use the public thoroughfare. Agreement on such a framework of law is the only agreement between citizens that a democracy fundamentally requires. But because agreement to conduct political disagreement within the constraints of law directed towards the protection of the freedom of citizens is a necessary condition for the operation of democracy then this specific agreement must be enforced by the State.

  Specifically, these considerations mean that in the case of the Loyal Orders the State has the fundamental duty to protect the right of the Loyal Orders to use their traditional parade routes. But the very existence of the Parades Commission represents the abdication of this fundamental duty on the part of Parliament. That, crucially, is the reason for the NIUP demand that the Parades Commission must be abolished to fully protect the core rights of law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland.

15 December 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 July 2001