Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000
WATSON, MLA AND
100. The Institution takes the view that the
curtailment of rights to march along a specific route along the
public highway is a breach of the marchers' human rights. Others
would argue that the intrusion of an unwanted march breaches their
rights. Does the Institution accept that unwanted marches are
a breach of the rights of the residents?
(Mr Watson) First of all, in reply to you, Mr Thompson,
going back again to Drumcree/Garvaghy Road, I have difficulty
when I know a certain Republican, from 20, 25 miles away, in County
Tyrone, travels to the Garvaghy Road to be offended on the first
Sunday in July, and has done for a number of years. I can say
that Mr Bingham and myself, in the past, have spoken to residents
of the Garvaghy Road, I am not talking about the Coalition, we
have sought the views of the ordinary residents on the road, we
have spoken to the Catholic clergy, representing the residents
on the road, and we have spoken to others, and the general consensus
of opinion is that the people in Portadown would be quite happy
to see that parade going down along the road on the first Sunday
in July, coming back from the Drumcree service, where they have
commemorated the Battle of the Somme, when both Catholic and Protestant
was slaughtered in France, defending liberty and freedom, and
we are somewhat at a loss when we see Brendon McKenna and his
colleagues being able to intimidate people and keep a blockade
on against an Orange Institution coming in, to a main arterial
route, back into Portadown, which has been acknowledged by one
of the previous Chief Constables and is already on record as saying
that it is a major arterial route, and it is the shortest route,
actually, back into Portadown. And the other thing I would say
is that in 1997, when the Parades Commission was just in its formation,
the then Chairman and some of the members of the Commission accompanied
the Orange parade out along the road to the Drumcree service,
they stayed out for the service and then returned in along the
route into Portadown. Now, on that particular occasion, that is
the last occasion that the Portadown Orangemen have been allowed
to return back in. I have to question, and I would like possibly
this Committee, if you get the chance, to ask, what changed between
1997 and 1998 that we have seen a block of the parade thereafter,
because all the conditions that the Orange Institution agreed
and offered to comply with, in a letter that both William and
I sent to every resident on the road, we complied with every condition,
and that parade went down on the day in question and at the time
in question and the Orange Institution did not breach anything.
And I think it would be in the interests of this Committee to
investigate why that parade was able to go down in 1997 but was
(Mr Bingham) I think, if I could just add, certainly,
as the Institution, Mr Thompson, we would not want to be dismissive
of other people's opinions or feelings on our parades, and we
would recognise at times, at least we have been told, that there
is a conflict of rights involved in the thing. But what I would
say to you is that the Institution, time and time again, has sought
to listen and to take on board the feelings of the community;
but there has to be a compromise somewhere along the line, and
when you continually get back that the bottom line for the other
group is "No Orange feet on this road," then it is very
difficult for us to accommodate that.
101. Would you accept that the residents have
some rights in these matters?
(Mr Bingham) We accept that every person in Northern
Ireland has rights to live their life freely and without hindrance.
102. And you would accept, therefore, that the
Institution has tried to balance the rights of the Orangemen's
situation and the rights of the residents by the negotiations
you have had with them?
(Mr Bingham) We are always trying to balance things.
I can remember, on one occasion, when the band that we used in
one of our parades was objected to and the music that was played,
we listened to what was coming from local people and we changed
the band to an accordion band, and we asked Roman Catholic people
to make us familiar with hymn tunes that were common to both our
traditions, and the band then played those hymn tunes that both
of us would have known.
103. Would you accept that the Commission is
trying to balance both rights, the rights of the Orangemen and
the rights of the residents?
(Mr Bingham) No, I think, absolutely not. I think
it is wed, and its emphasis has always been in favour of residents'
groups. I do not think it really has shown any kind of understanding
or sympathy of the Orange Institution.
104. What input did the Institution make to
the Northern Ireland Office review of the Commission, and what
is its assessment of the conclusions?
(Mr Patton) Mr Thompson, when we received the invitation,
along with everyone else, to make a submission to the review,
we did that, we made a written submission, we met with representatives
of the Northern Ireland Office, and, indeed, we met with the Secretary
of State regarding it, and I would be very happy to let this Committee
have a copy of our written submission to that. I would have to
say that the feeling that I certainly got, at the time, even in
discussions, was that we were involved in an exercise the result
of which had already been predetermined. And, as we had spoken
to North, at that time, when we had commented upon the North Report,
when it was being reviewed, we have commented at that review,
and time after time we just get the feeling that, despite being
the largest organisation that actually organises parades, our
views were being totally ignored, time after time, year after
105. Do you think, indeed, that the review produced
(Mr Patton) From a personal perspective, I do not
think that it did. I think it was a paper exercise.
Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.
106. Before I call Mr Grogan, can I just get
a clearer idea of why you reckoned that no attention was being
paid to you; is this instinct, or is it reflected in words that
were used to you?
(Mr Bingham) It is not just instinct, I think it is
experience as well. Even before the time of the initial legislation
coming and being formed, we had put forward our views to the then
Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, and during the summer, just prior
to the legislation coming out in September, we had dreadful difficulties
throughout the Province, and the Orange Order called off four
parades in four major towns to try to defuse the situation; something
that took a lot of courage from some of our members to do. We
felt that we had shown our concern to bring about peace and stability
to the Province and to deal with problems, if there were any,
with regard to the parades; and so we had mentioned to the Secretary
of State things that we felt should be incorporated into the legislation,
which she felt, at that stage, she could do. When we met her again
in September, she just simply said that she was unable to deliver
points that we wanted within that legislation.
107. I am not in any way seeking anything which
is confidential, but would you like to give an example of one
of the four things which you sought to incorporate?
(Mr Bingham) Very simply, the name "Parades Commission"
is automatically loaded against one tradition, and that is the
Protestant/Orange tradition, which is a parading institution.
We felt that there were aspects of Gaelic and Nationalist culture
that were offensive to us, as Protestants; but, because we did
not make a song and dance about it, because we did not protest
about it, because we were not causing widespread violence throughout
the Province, it was being ignored. And at that stage we certainly
felt that, obviously we were led to believe, that legislation
would include a broader look at the expression of culture and
not just narrowed down to the Protestant and Orange tradition.
108. You mentioned earlier on that there was
an overwhelming majority amongst the Lodges against any contact
with the Parades Commission; so is there a significant minority
who would perhaps argue that, in order to get your point across,
one of the reasons perhaps why the Parades Commission is not reflecting
your view as much as you would like it to do is because there
is no contact, and when was it last discussed, and how significant
is that minority?
(Mr Saulters) It was last discussed in June, and at
that time they called for a secret ballot; normally, it was a
show of hands, but they called for a secret ballot at that time
within Grand Lodge, which is about 160 people, at present. So
they were granted the secret ballot, and out of that, I think,
there were about nine who would have talked to the Parades Commission.
109. And it is all or nothing; is it, in the
spirit of tolerance, presumably, you would not be happy for individual
Lodges to speak to the Parades Commission, if they thought that
was the correct thing to do?
(Mr Saulters) No. That was the ruling of Grand Lodge,
and the Lodges would not go against that. Also, I think part of
the problem is, if you meet the Parades Commission, their bottom
line is that you have to meet with Sinn Fein residents, and there
are a number of brethren up around the country who just would
not meet with Sinn Fein.
110. Reverend Bingham, you began to talk about
four points, how the Parades Commission could be improved, or,
given that Parliament has passed the fact that the Parades Commission
is going to be there, and there is no indication that Parliament
is likely to change its mind in the near future, if you had three
or four points that would make the Parades Commission better than
it is now, and slightly more acceptable to you, what would they
(Mr Bingham) I would have to say to you that I feel,
within the Orange community, the Parades Commission is irredeemable.
111. But you admitted, a few moments ago, an
interesting comment, when you said that, occasionally, you do
take on board criticisms of parades, and so on, you implied that
sometimes the criticisms must be fair and reasonable, because
you change your practice?
(Mr Bingham) Simple things, like the Orange Order
was getting criticism over the way some bands behaved on parade,
so we brought out a Code of Conduct, and we have a contract that
every band has to sign up to and keep, and if it breaks our Code
of Conduct and breaks the agreement then it is no longer allowed
to participate in Orange parades. So we do listen to what people
are saying to us, we do not turn a blind eye to things that are
112. But, in your view, you should be the sole
arbiter of whether those criticisms are valid or not?
(Mr Bingham) I think it is up to every body and every
organisation to look at itself and to make its own decisions on
how it is going to react to criticism, I do not think any political
party would accept, I do not think the Labour Party would accept
the Conservative Party telling them what to do to put their house
in order. You may listen to what they say and you will make your
judgement on that, but you would not certainly allow William Hague
to tell you what to do.
113. Just to return to my original point, as
a Labour MP who is not actually going to back the Government today,
on a particular point, the nine Lodges who obviously can see some
point in talking to the Parades Commission, why not let them do
(Mr Bingham) But that would not be nine Lodges, that
would be nine individual people.
114. But, presumably, they reflect the views
of some of the Lodges?
(Mr Bingham) That depends whether you view the other
as a representative or a delegate.
115. Finally, just looking at, because Parliament,
as I say, has passed the fact that the Parades Commission should
exist and has given it three tasks: promoting the understanding
by the general public of the issues concerning public processions,
promoting and facilitating mediation, and keeping itself informed
as to the conduct of public processions and protest meetings,
would you have any assessment on those three points, how they
have performed; and would they not be able to perform a lot better
if you would talk to them and reply to their letters?
(Mr Saulters) If I could go back to 1995, before the
Parades Commission came in, I spoke directly with Sinn Fein, through
mediation, and the police were involved at that time as well.
We had an agreement with them, on 10 July, at half-past threethis
is the Ormeau Road now I am talking about, in Belfastthat
the parade would go through on the 12th. That evening at half-past
seven, whenever the Sinn Fein representatives went back to their
neighbourhood, the thugs came out and they said "There's
no way are they going down;" so there is no way I am talking
to them. If their representatives cannot deliver, there is no
point in talking to them. And that is one thing that the Parades
Commission demands, that we talk to the residents' groups. There
is no point. As we have pointed out again, in this article of
the Newsletter, of the Apprentice Boys, we have tried it since
(Mr Patton) I think, Mr Grogan, also, in terms of
the three areas that you have mentioned specifically there, I
would have to say, in my view, they have failed on all three.
I am not sure what education, if any, they have carried out; the
very fact that I do not know possibly would suggest that they
have failed in that. Mediation, we have 295 possibly contentious
parades that they have not been able to mediate, if that is their
role. And, in terms of a greater understanding of our parades,
and things like that, their own determinations made it very clear
that they understand entirely the Orange Order, but as long as
there is violence from another source everything else is irrelevant.
Time after time, in our determinations, the local Orangemen are
praised for their behaviour, their dignity, and so on and so forth,
and then you get the "But", "This parade will be
attacked, therefore the parade cannot go ahead." So I would
have to say, on all three counts, it is a complete failure.
116. Earlier on, we established the numbers
for 1998/1999 of 295 contentious parades and 119 route restrictions;
and I think it is fair to say that when we talk of "contentious"
we talk of traditional parades. Given the very real demographic
changes that have taken place across the Province, and are continuing
to take place, as the population continues to grow, is it reasonable
to expect that the routes of parades should be just set in stone?
(Mr Patton) I think it is a very important point,
Mr Clarke, and I think one of the important things is "traditional",
that we do not introduce routes to offend people, we stick to
our routes, we stick to arterial routes; and it is amazing to
think that whenever you actually look at the contested routes
they are main arterial routes, very little residential housing,
the large vacant spaces, commercial property, and what have you,
we are not going through residential areas. People actually have
to leave their houses, in the majority of those places, to come
and walk some considerable distance to be offended; very often
to be offended at 8 o'clock on a Bank Holiday morning, to be offended
on a Sunday lunch-time, when any other Sunday they would be having
their lunch, and so on and so forth. And I think that it is important
to bear that in mind and to realise where exactly, as an organisation,
we do parade.
117. You see, I am trying to tie that in with
the comments made earlier on by Reverend Bingham, when he said,
should the police force the march through, "I believe they
should." So are we saying that the police should be used
to force marches through where routes are contentious?
(Mr Patton) I believe that it is a very dangerous
signal to send to society, to say that legitimate expressions
of faith and culture will be denied because of the threat of violence
from others. I believe that the forces of law and order have to
deal with the source of the threat.
118. Are you happy for that in reverse, in terms
of a Nationalist parade being forced through a Loyalist area?
(Mr Patton) We are a tolerant people, as Mr Bingham
has said, we generally do not object. We believe in toleration
and we shall respectwe may not like it, but there is very,
very little evidence of opposition by Loyalist and Unionist people,
and I dare say none by the Orange Order, to Nationalist parades.
(Mr Bingham) In fact, if I might just add that, on
one occasion, in a village in the county in which I live, there
was to be an Hibernian parade, which is the Nationalist equivalent
of the Orange Order, so to speak, and they felt that they would
call off their parade, because things were tense in Northern Ireland,
and the local Lodge actually wrote and said "No; we will
not object, go on ahead and have your parade."
119. My final question is that it is quite clear,
from your evidence, that you would wish to see the Parades Commission
abolished, disbanded. Our inquiry concentrates principally on
the current framework. We are aware of your views, but, if it
were abolished, what, if anything, should replace it?
(Mr Watson) I believe, Mr Clarke, that it should be
in the hands of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who are there as
the agents to enforce law and order, and, sadly, the Chief Constable,
our current Chief Constable, does not want to have to involve
his force in decisions for other matters that the force is undergoing
at present, and being debated in other places today. And that,
sadly, is one of the major issues. But I do believe it is a law
and order problem, and it should rest fairly and squarely with
the Royal Ulster Constabulary.