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


Memorandum submitted by the Ulster Bands Association


  In the past, numerous unsuccessful attempts have been made to establish an efficient association that could adequately promote the interests of the marching bands community in Ulster.

  These failures were due mainly to:-

    (a)  Political differences

    (b)  A lack of awareness to the menace posed to the existence of the marching band culture

    (c)  The fact that membership of a band is viewed principally as a hobby.

  It also led to the emergence of a number of misconceptions relating to our culture.

  In March 1998 a meeting was organised to discuss these problems and the Ulster Bands Association formed.

  Several issues were instantly identified as requiring urgent attention.

  They were:—

    1.  The need to explain to others the background, ethos and unique cultural identity of the Ulster marching bands

    2.  The need for a coherent strategy to respond to the growing threat to that culture

    3.  The need to, in some circumstances, regulate the standard of bands

    4.  The creation and implementation of a Code of Conduct.

  Although the Parades Commission is viewed with indifference and seen by our Association as a threat, the Central Committee of the Association were able to persuade the membership that only by meeting with the Commission could we effectively enlighten them on our culture.

  The Association has also sent a detailed dossier of correspondence concerning an incident in which a band was prohibited from participating in a parade, due to erroneous information being supplied to the Parades Commission.


  Parading was once perceived as a normal peaceful activity in Northern Ireland where people who were loyal to Queen and Country took the opportunity to publicly demonstrate this fact to anyone who was interested. Thanks mainly to a skilful propaganda campaign by Republican elements of our society, these demonstrations are now regarded by the media and the world at large as antagonistic and triumphal demonstrations of force aimed at the Roman Catholic sections of our community.

  Nothing could be further from the truth!

  As part of this propaganda campaign Sinn Féin first mooted the idea of a Parades Tribunal in May 1985 (the current practice then was that the Chief Constable decided as to whether a parade could take place or not—their assertion was that the Chief Constable was biased) and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must have pigeon-holed this idea for later use.

  In later years pressure mounted on the Government particularly about the Drumcree issue and, as a means of relieving this pressure on the Government and Chief Constable, a report from the North Committee recommended that a Commission be set up to supervise and regulate parading. Following publication of this report the Secretary of State instituted the necessary changes to the law in the form of the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 which empowered the Parades Commission. Following a short consultative period the Parades Commission hurriedly produced a series of documents (as required by the Act), which laid out the criteria upon which their decisions would be based. Given that it is only the Ulster Protestant community which is based upon the public display of loyalty and no contact was sought by the Parades Commission with bands or their representatives (the Loyal Orders had at that time adopted a policy of non cooperation with the Parades Commission) a true perception of our culture could not have been fully and faithfully represented. When the Commission met to consider how they would achieve their objectives an obvious inbuilt discrimination against our culture was incorporated within the modus operandi of the Parades Commission.

  During this entire procedure no attempt was made by any party to consult with the people who would be directly affected by their decisions, nor was there any attempt to keep the general public advised as to the progress of the Act.

  There was just an indecent haste to have the Parades Commission up and running in time for the oncoming "marching season" and in that haste mistakes were made.

  As a consequence of these actions an Act was empowered by Parliament that was not only as fundamentally flawed as you could have ever hoped to see, but also was also flagrantly discriminatory against the culture of the majority population.

  What did we do about it?—What could we do about it? We trusted our Parliament and our Members of Parliament to look after our interests and we discovered that this trust was misplaced and our interests were disregarded. It was within this environment that we sought to try and salvage whatever we could from the situation. We held our tongues and thought that it was not as bad as we first thought. But it was!

  Member bands were falsely accused of doing something (we don't know what) and were banned from parading in Portadown. We made representations and the ban was lifted. This happened again the following year and again the putative ban was lifted after representations. In all the Parades Commission has banned the participation of our member bands on several occasions since its formation despite our assertions that it does not have the authority to do so and in all cases except one it has subsequently rescinded its previous decision. It is almost as if we were playing cat and mouse—they would ban a band to see if we noticed and when we objected they would then alter their decision.


  We have formally met with the Parades Commission on a number of occasions and have raised a number of issues with them. To date we have not received a satisfactory response from any of the motions.

  We do not enter into these lightly but neither are we fools. We know when we are being fobbed off and we know when we are being deliberately baulked. A senior official of the Commission has in the past commented that "the Association was not a major player" and we have found it difficult to make substantive contact with the Commission ever since. The fact remains that we are the only organisation representing bands that is prepared to meet with them and to try and resolve problems. A recent study of the conflict by Profs Jarman and Bryan of the Ulster University placed bands and their parades as second only to the major 12th demonstrations in size and importance, however, it seems, that this information has yet to be digested by the staff of the Commission. Their brief seems to be as obstructive and as insulting as they can possibly be and one wonders as to the motive for this attitude. Can it be that there exists an ulterior motive behind their actions? Does the fact that our organisation is prepared to meet with the Parades Commission rankle with someone within that Commission and have their actions been calculated to provoke this Association into a similar policy of non co-operation. If our membership were to be aware of the extent of the slights and insults that this Association has suffered from the hands of the Parades Commission then that situation may be closer than they think.

  We met with the Commission initially to give them a three-point submission for their consideration. We received no response to these submissions and subsequently wrote—their reply is attached in the Appendices[226]—it has to be seen to be believed.

  That Commission disbanded so we requested a meeting with the Commission in its entirety.

  We asked to meet the full Commission and we asked for ample time to discuss a serious matter that had arisen and to raise the matter of unresolved business. In view of this fact we gave at least two months advance notice. Can you imagine our surprise therefore, when despite this two month period of notice hardly had our coffee cooled when the new Chairman announced that he had a prior engagement and that the meeting would end at eight pm (some of our members had travelled from all parts of the Province, in some cases they had travelled directly from work).

  The submission, which we left with them, is as yet unanswered and the deferred meeting that was promised by the Chairman for later in the year has, after a passage of almost 12 months, yet to be finalised (despite numerous phone calls and faxes from us). The latest news is that as of 7.2.2001 the staff of the Parades Commission have stated that they can guarantee no more than one Commissioner who is prepared to meet with us on any one given evening. We requested an evening meeting because so many of our committee are in full time employment and therefore a daytime appointment is totally unsuitable. The Commissioners we must add are paid for their attendance at meetings.


  At the time of writing we feel that there are four outstanding issues on which we have made written submissions and on which the Parades Commission has taken no action. They are:

  1.  The necessity of the parade organiser to notify a responsible member of a band in writing of any determination made by the Parades Commission in relation to any particular parade or demonstration. This was the first point of our original submission. At our meeting with the Commission they agreed that it would be helpful and agreed to incorporate a sentence to that effect within their determinations but when the matter was discussed by the full Commission at subsequent date they decided not to require written notification but instead the sentence was watered down to state that "bands should be notified". That watered down version has since disappeared from their determination leaving bands vulnerable to prosecution.

  This may not seem to be a major point within the normal scope of problems,m but when it is considered within the proper perspective then legal ramifications take on gargantuan proportions.

  If a band unknowingly contravenes a determination of the Parades Commission the first thing to happen is that the nominal head of the band would be asked to call into the police station. There, because of the nature of the offence, he/she would be cautioned, questioned, fingerprinted and asked to give a statement concerning the alleged offence. Bearing in mind that these are normal, hardworking people of average intelligence then this experience can be traumatic. Add to that the present government's proposals that the police should retain fingerprints etc for an indefinite time period then the effects would be nothing less than catastrophic. A simple statement by the Parades Commission to tell parade organisers to advise bands in writing of any restrictions would go a long way towards alleviating this problem.

  2.  The Commission has empowered itself in our opinion to give itself the ability to prevent bands from taking part in specific parades. It is our assertion that this power is vested in the Secretary of State by the Act and only when bands have been required by the Secretary of State to register under section 12 of the Act.

  We have made representations to the Commission concerning this abuse of power but as yet they insist that they are empowered by section 8 of the Act to ban specific bands from attending parades.

  There was a protest parade in Portadown last year against the Parades Commission—they imposed a restriction on the number of bands that were allowed to parade that night. In another parade—also in Portadown—they imposed a ban on bands laying wreaths at the War Memorial in honour and memory of the fallen of the two World Wars. These should not have been subject to Parades Commission scrutiny but who but they know different.

  When employing these disputed powers the Commission employs a secrecy which would do justice to MI5. Allegations are made, considered and sentence passed in private all before the band or bands concerned knew about it. No contact is made with bands either before, during or after deliberation. This is a shameful way of carrying on one's business. If allegations are to be made they should be made publicly and if a punishment is to be handed down then the defendant should be offered the chance to defend the charges.

  The days of kangaroo courts are long gone and for the British Government to be a party to these kangaroo courts and similar injustices for the sake of expediency is lamentable.

  When something is wrong it is wrong but to sit complacently by and do nothing about it when you can bring about change is even worse.

  3.  Having taken powers illicitly from the Act this Commission totally ignores the rule of law as generally accepted within the land. It is their contention that the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 supersedes all legislation prior to and since enactment. Although the Act may give them the ability to proscribe the conduct of a parade or demonstration at specified areas they have expanded that to cover the ability to proscribe people from those same areas. This was not the intention of the Act—the intention of the Act was to empower someone to say if a parade could take place in a specified area and if so what stipulations should be placed upon that parade for it to proceed. They have, as said previously, expanded those powers to cover the prohibition of bands and by implication individuals and have done so in complete secrecy. The legal penalty imposed by the Act is enacted under criminal law, however the Parades Commission does not consider that the procedure, which applies to criminal law cases, should apply to them. Ask them why and they will cite section 3.1 not of the Act but of their procedural rules. These rules which have not been debated in Parliament are being given precedence over countless other Acts which have. The highest court in the land would free a criminal who was caught in the commission of his crime if the prosecutor flaunted the police and criminal evidence guidelines. Not so with our Parades Commission—the right to know what offence you are charged with is superfluous to requirements and the right to mount a defence is only needless delay. The fact that they have stolen powers from the Secretary of State is an inconsequence that only expensive litigation can remedy.

  4.  In the unseemly haste to have the Parades Commission in place in time for the marching season, short cuts were taken that are now coming home to roost. Form 11/1 was a police form, which was to be completed and given to an officer of at least the rank of Sergeant of the RUC prior to the formation of the Parades Commission. The Parades Commission took this form in its entirety and added to it. In an attempt to entangle the procedure in a web of red tape they insisted upon some modifications, namely:

    (a)   An insistence that the section relating to the name and address of the person responsible for each band entered on Form 11/1 be completed in its entirety even though this information is not required by the Act and

    (b)   By means of coercion a statement to be read by the police sergeant if these details are not forthcoming threatening prosecution if the parade takes place in the absence of this information.

  Under normal circumstances there would be no problems with this. However, these are not normal circumstances nor is this Commission a normal body.

  In the past there was no difficulty in giving the information required by the Act to the police. In fact most of the information was already on file through other normal dealings with the police—completion of applications for permits etc. By the very nature of their work they had signed the Official Secrets Act and the likelihood of the police giving information to the terrorists was slim to say the least.

  The Parades Commission is however a horse of a different colour. They have been unable to offer any reassurances as to the safety and security of their information and databases despite our requests. In our last meeting we left a submission dealing with that very point—we will await a reply.

  To compound the issue, in July last year a Form 11/1 bearing the personal details of the responsible personnel of the bands who paraded at Maghera was somehow given to a convicted terrorist who is now the Sinn Féin representative for the area. The Parades Commission said it was a mistake.

  The fact remains that the Parades Commission did not recover the form but accepted an unsubstantiated statement that it had been destroyed.

  This might be the right time to remind your Committee that we have been embroiled in nothing less than a war since 1969 and although there is at present a ceasefire in operation that is all it is. It is not a cessation of hostilities nor is it an out and out declaration of peace between our two factions. Information as to likely targets is still being collated and this information, so lightly disposed of by the Parades Commission, has placed up to 48 families in serious jeopardy.

  The home of a good friend of mine now resembles a fortress since the installation of the security measures that he has been forced to install—all thanks to a thoughtless mistake.

  What makes matters worse is the Commission's reluctance to publicly concede that it was wrong and to rectify the matter. The police already hold the information demanded by the Commission, so their determination to have it repeated at every given opportunity is hard to understand. On this point this is the second occasion that the Commission has refused to apologise publicly.

  One of our members was the subject of a scurrilous report from an employee of the Commission and it was accused of something (they would not say) and was banned from attending a parade in Portadown in one of the Commission's infamous kangaroo courts. We made representations and the decision was reversed but although the Commission had publicly besmirched the reputation of this band, they have refused outright to apologise in public to them. They have said "sorry" at one of our meetings but that was within the confines of the room and with no audience. It is almost as if it is beneath the Commission to acknowledge their mistakes.

  As part of their on-going campaign, Sinn Féin/IRA are engaged in a map-making exercise within Northern Ireland. They have embarked upon a journey to identify the religious make up of every street and lane in Northern Ireland and laid claim to any street which has a Roman Catholic living in it as a "Nationalist or Republican area" despite the wishes and political views of the residents. This is even more prevalent at interface areas where tensions are evident every day of the year and become almost unbearable at the height of the marching season. They come into an area, form a "concerned residents group", bring in their cohorts from outside the area to stage a protest and lay claim to that street or area as another Republican street. The Parades Commission meets, listens to their threats of violence and civil unrest and agrees to stop the parade from entering an area. What better source than the British Government's own Parades Commission to support your territorial claim? Once a street has been painted a particular colour, especially by the Government, then the residents of the other tradition tend to up sticks and leave.


The Commission's Workings

  No one organisation and that includes the Sinn Féin and the PIRA has done more to alienate the Northern Ireland Protestant working man from the rule of law.

  We have in the Parades Commission a government quango, which has contributed more towards the destruction of community relations in every area that it has legislated in than any other body. It cannot be anything other. It lies between a rock and a hard place and does not seem to want to move. Despite attempts to give it a greater understanding of the nature of the problem it has happily settled on becoming more a part of that problem than part of the solution. It has the ability to improve the quality of life in this country but instead of grasping the nettle it has given sway to the threats of violence when making its decisions. This has in turn led to threats and counter-threats from all sections of the community each in turn blaming the other and each in turn creating grudges, which eventually lead to ever decreasing circles.

  The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 created the Parades Commission and stated in Section 2

  2(1) It shall be the duty of the Commission—

    (a)  To promote greater understanding by the general public of issues concerning public processions

    (b)  To promote and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning public demonstrations

    (c)  To keep itself generally informed as to the conduct of public processions and protest meetings

    (d)  To keep under review and make such recommendations as it thinks fit to the Secretary of State concerning the operation of this act.

  2)  The Commission may in accordance with the following provisions of this Act—

    (a)  Facilitate mediation between parties to particular disputes concerning proposed public processions and take such other steps as appear to the Commission to be appropriate for resolving such disputes

    (b)  Issue determinations in respect of particular proposed public processions.

  3)  For the purposes of its functions under this section the Commission may with the approval of the Secretary of State—

    (a)  Provide financial or other assistance to any person or body on such terms and conditions as the Commission may determine

    (b)  Commission research.

  These aims are laudable and had the Commission stayed within its brief then I doubt the necessity for this document. If we were to disregard (as the Commission has done) Sections 2(1) a, b, c, & d, 2(2)(a) and 2(3) a & b of the Act this then leaves Section 2(2) b which in all truth is what the Parades Commission believes is its only responsibility and its raison d'être.

  In view of the fact that the Parades Commission is empowered by an Act of Parliament and determinations issued by the Parades Commission are legally binding under the authority of that Act, it must therefore follow that the process of deliberation by the Parades Commission in reaching a conclusion should be the same as the process used by every other person who is empowered by Act of Parliament to deliberate and give judgement upon the matter before them.

  One of the fundamental cornerstones of the British legal system is that an individual or group of individuals is considered to be innocent of any particular offence until proven guilty, be that proof beyond a reasonable doubt (as in criminal law) or on the balance of probability (as in civil cases). However before a person is liable to punishment under the law they have certain inalienable rights which must be rigidly observed and maintained. Among those rights are:

    (1)  The right to have prior knowledge of any allegations made against them

    (2)  The right to legal representation throughout the case

    (3)  The right of rebuttal of the allegations prior to, during and subsequent to proceedings.

  An examination of the Parades Commission's determinations will show they have consistently flaunted these rights both before and subsequent to our submission on this point in 1999.

  Another point of concern is the fact that the right of appeal under the Act is severely restricted. If the police object about a particular decision they can ask the Commission to review it. If after review the police are still unhappy with the decision they can refer the matter to the Chief Constable who has the right to apply to the Secretary of State for a review of the decision.

  The general public has not been made aware of this right of review and in their procedural document the Commission does not refer to it at all. They simply advise the public that the Commission are empowered to review and alter decisions.

  Another case of expediency versus truth.

  On the matter of review we made our views known to the Commission—again no response has been forthcoming.

  The general rule in law is "he who asserts must prove" and in practice this puts a much heavier burden on the accuser than on the accused. Bearing in mind the fact the Commission constitutes its own appeal body and any review of a determination of the Commission would in all likelihood be heard by the same people that considered the matter initially, then it becomes vital that not only should the Commission act with complete openness but also that it should be seen to do so. When a determination is made in respect of a parade then that decision must be the correct one from the outset with all facts and facets completely investigated and fully investigated to the standard required by law.

  There exists a burden of proof on the Commission to show that their decisions are correct not only in law but also in justice. The fact that so many cases have been altered upon review shows that this is not so.

  A study of decisions handed down by similarly empowered bodies has revealed that certain fundamental principals have emerged which govern the decision making process of these bodies and by which they must always be guided namely:

    (a)  It is the duty of the Statutory Body to reach an independent decision on the matter before them in accordance with the law and the evidence and with due regard to the onus of proof. The personal feelings of the members on any particular matter have no place in the adjudication process.

    (b)  In exercising their functions every member of the Commission must act judicially, impartially and within the limits of their jurisdiction. They are bound to the Act, code of conduct, rules and guidelines even should they disagree with them.

    (c)  The Act authorises a review only in the case of fresh evidence or representations—it has no provision for review in the case of a mistake as to a material fact. This restriction only serves to remind the Commission of the importance of getting it right first time. To achieve that goal it is important that all of the evidence has been collected and collated and is available for the consideration of the Commission. Once in possession of the relevant information the Commission should then be able to issue a determination, which is correct at the outset and should not need to be reviewed at a subsequent date.


The Commission's Secrecy

  One of the biggest problems surrounding the Parades Commission is finding out why they acted in the manner in which they did. They are good at telling you what to do but not why you should do it. When you try to discover it for yourself you are met with a mantle of secrecy that proves impossible to break down. Ask a question and you are told that information given to the Commission is confidential and cannot be disclosed. This is understandable in relation to the source of the information but surely not with the content.


The Commission's Staff

  The Commission is empowered to employ staff to assist in the daily running of their affairs. In this in particular they have shown something that at best can only be described as naivety and at worst mendacity.

  In recent years we have encountered occasions when the Parades Commission has been compromised by the actions of its paid employees. In short I think it fair to say that we are fairly unimpressed by the quality of the vetting performed by the Parades Commission relating to its employees.

  One senior member of staff has categorically shown prejudice when he stated that this Association is "not a major player" and as such was not worthy of serious consideration. This despite the fact that we have never claimed to be of any particular status but we have been consistent in the fact that we are the only organisation representing bands which has offered any sort of voluntary contact with the Parades Commission. In any event is it only large organisations that have good ideas?

  One observer identified a band that was not at a parade as a culprit of some misdemeanour or other leading to an incorrect proscription of that band. That decision had to be reviewed.

  One employee wrongly divulged information to Sinn Féin/IRA concerning the identities of leading band members.

  Another employee could not bring himself to seek the return of that document but accepted unsubstantiated reports of the destruction of the document.

  Another observer was seen in Maghera being collected at the site of a contentious parade by the Sinn Féin member of the Assembly for the area.

  These people, suffice to say, have a duty to be honest and impartial in the standard and content of their reporting.

  We cannot be assured of this.


The Composition of the Commission

  Much was said during the infancy of this Act concerning the nature and composition of the Commission.

  It was said that the Commission would be equally balanced with a Chairman who would have a professional qualification and at least six members—two from the Catholic tradition, two from the Protestant tradition and two professional members who presumably had no axe to grind. All fairly and evenly balanced—except—from which Protestant tradition were the two representatives selected . . . the part of Protestant culture that does not take part in the marching tradition (usually the professional classes) or the normal working man's section of our culture? It is the latter that has the necessary understanding of our culture but inevitably it is the former that will receive the appointment.

  Hardly fair representation. This situation is further compounded when one discovers that nowhere within the legislation is this check and balance incorporated. Further reading of the Act discloses that again the balance of the Commission is not protected in the same manner as say our Assembly and decisions can be taken when Commissioners from one side or other are in the ascendancy. Again the secrecy of the Commissions workings is highlighted by the fact that it is not made public who was present and who was not, or how many Commissioners made the decision or which side was represented. It is the uncertainty, which erodes the decision—the right decision might be given for the right reasons but unless the people are trusted with the truth we have no way of knowing.


226   Not reported. Back

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