Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000
WATSON, MLA AND
120. So should the police, in that sense, have
the power to modify routes?
(Mr Watson) I think the RUC, in the past, going back
to the Portadown situation, have already amended a route, and
that is what a lot of people seem to misunderstand in relation
to the Portadown problem, that that was agreed with the then Member
of Parliament, the representatives of the Orange Institution,
the residents on the road, and also the then Chief Constable of
the Royal Ulster Constabulary. But, unfortunately, there are some
people who are not prepared to allow that to happen, in the current
121. Just following that to its ultimate conclusion,
if the police were playing a part in modification of routes and
replaced the Parades Commission, should there simply be a power
to ban parades, and if so should that remain with the Secretary
(Mr Watson) I think, ultimately, the Secretary of
State, yes, is the senior person in Northern Ireland, and the
authority should remain with the Secretary of State, after taking
advice from the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and there have been
bans placed on parades in the past. There is something rather
strange when you can drive up and down a road, in my own constituency,
which I represent at the Assembly, of Upper Bann, I can drive
up and down the Garvaghy Road 24 hours a day, up and down that
road, I am well known, not stopped, hindered from going up and
down that road; but once I put my Orange collarette on there seems
to be a major problem, but I have great difficulty understanding
what that problem is.
122. I do have a couple of questions I want
to ask, in conclusion, arising out of some of the evidence which
has already been given, and I shall make clear to my colleagues
on the Committee that if they want to come in with further supplementaries,
arising out of my questions, they should feel free to do so. The
first question relates to Mr Watson's comment, quite early in
the proceedings, that the Parades Commission had made things much
worse, I do not think I am misquoting you, in saying that. What
I want to get clear is the issue of cause and effect. There has
been reference to the fact that Sinn Fein have been engaged in
a three-year programme, and a number of locations were identified
where that programme had been at work, and, of course, I acknowledge
that, not necessarily absolutely concurrently but over the same
sort of period, the Parades Commission has been in existence.
Now a deterioration in the situation, and I am not questioning
your observation that there has been a deterioration, could have
been due to the creation of the Parades Commission, and, indeed,
the activities of the Parades Commission, and it could conceivably
have happened anyway; in other words, given the programme that
you were describing Sinn Fein were engaged in, and the political
circumstances in the Province anyway, we could have seen the number
of contentious parades rising towards 295, if not necessarily
295 itself, even if the Parades Commission had not existed. First,
I want to verify whether that is, actually, in your view, a reasonable
(Mr Patton) Yes, I think we would have to accept that
it could have happened. Our view would be that the Parades Commission
has exacerbated the situation; one would not know how bad it would
be if they had not been there. I think the power of veto that
has been given to those who threaten violence, by the Parades
Commission, is the single biggest factor in the rise of the difficulties
that we have had.
123. Immediately after Mr Watson had said what
I described, I did pick up Mr Bingham's observation that the actions
of those on behalf of the Parades Commission, who, in his view,
appeared to be issuing invitations to object, could have been
contributory, in terms of raising the temperature; because Mr
Watson used quite strong language about how far the situation
had got worse because of the Parades Commission. If my hypothesis
has any validity, how much of the deterioration would you say
was due to the Parades Commission and how much to other surrounding
(Mr Watson) Can I just put on record that one of your
Members referred to the incident where names were released to
a Sinn Fein activist in Maghera, this is not the first time this
has happened, by the Parades Commission. We have evidence in Portadown
that it happened in 1998/1999, when information on the statutory
11 bar one, that goes in through the Royal Ulster Constabulary,
information of that form was given to IRA activists in Portadown,
and, as a result, members of the Institution in Portadown were
put under threat and had to move from the house because they were
identified. We have taken that up with Mr Ingram, and are currently
taking that up with him again.
(Mr Saulters) Can I give an example of
the parade recently in June, it is a parade actually that has
been going on since 1958, and since 1970 it has rerouted four
times on the Springfield Road; now it was the police that were
dealing with it at that time, and we talked with the police and
rerouted. Five years ago, the Nationalist people complained again
about this annual parade, and they demanded a wall built between
the two communities, and this was 25, 30 feet high; that worked
for three years. Two years ago, Sinn Fein, Gerry Kelly, who is
now an MLA in Stormont, started bringing his cohorts in miles
away from the Springfield Road, a week before the parade was due,
overturning police Land Rovers, and the like. This year, the Parades
Commission decided, in their wisdom, that the parade would come
to Springfield Road and the bands would not be allowed to play
music from an entry to Springfield Road to a point at Springfield
School, a matter of a hundred yards. There are eight houses at
the first part of that road, the rest of the road is on a corner
of the road, over a river, waste ground either side, and that
was the determination, the band was not allowed to play music
in that part. So we wondered how we would keep the band quiet,
we knew it was a move for next year, that perhaps if a band made
a squeak that is an excuse to have it banned altogether next year.
So, in their wisdom, they took the bands on a three-mile detour,
by buses, and what have you, to take them off that section of
the road altogether; and that has not pleased the people on that
road either. Now, if you can picture the road with nothing there,
there are no houses, there are no people, and that was the determination.
That is the silliness of the thing, from the bands and from the
(Mr Bingham) We also wonder, Mr Chairman,
at times, does the Parades Commission itself take sufficient cognisance
of what they hear from their Authorised Officers and the local
police. There is a feeling within the Institution that perhaps
they should take more cognisance of what they are hearing at ground
124. That takes me on to my second question,
and I wanted to ask you if you would expand a little on the issue
of mediation, the second responsibility, duty, of the Parades
Commission which was put to you when three issues were put together.
I picked up some vibrations about your reactions to mediation,
but it would be helpful if you had anything else you wanted to
say in expansion on that?
(Mr Bingham) I think that there should be a recognition
that not every conflict situation can be resolved through mediation,
and I think Mediation Network published a report in May or June
of this year which suggested to the Parades Commission, for example,
that in their opinion Drumcree would not be resolved, and could
not be resolved, through a mediation process. So I think, whereas
we would all like to see a consensus reached on many of these
issues, at times it becomes impossible to do so, and I think we
have to live in the real world and recognise that. Where you are
most likely to reach a consensus is where you do not have political
involvement from Sinn Fein, who are calling the shots and who
try to make their own agenda out of it, and I quote maybe the
example of Dromore, in County Tyrone, where the local Sinn Fein
were sidelined by the local residents, and an agreement has been
reachedI think it is in your constituency, Mr Thompsonwhich
has held ever since.
125. Can I infer, from that answer, that there
are a fair number of places/cases where mediation actually works,
in terms of producing equilibrium?
(Mr Bingham) It would be a minority, a very small
number that we could point to.
126. Let me put it another way. In your view,
were the Parades Commission making claims about the effectiveness
of mediation which are not justified?
(Mr Saulters) I would say, it was as my example of
1995. At that time, it was people from the Quaker persuasion were
doing mediation, on behalf of the police.
127. I can recall these particular people.
(Mr Bingham) I can only speak for County Armagh, which
is a border constituency, and which would tend to have perhaps
more controversial areas, where none of ours have been resolved
through mediation; none.
(Mr Patton) The other thing, Mr Chairman, about mediation
you have within the report from the Parades Commission, they set
out terms of engagement; now, invariably, districts like Portadown
have met those, but it has not been sufficient for the Parades
Commission. We have the case of the Apprentice Boys, and I cannot
speak for them, but looking from the outside in, where they have
everything that has ever been asked of them and still nothing.
And it looks to me as if the Parades Commission are quite arbitrary,
in not only determining "You must do this," but they
then talk about the quality of it, and things like this, and they
give absolutely nothing at all in recognition of attempts made
by very, very many people to try to organise and to mediate. And,
again, in a situation, there is no incentive for those who are
desirous to stop a parade to genuinely become involved in mediation,
when they know they can hide behind a Parades Commission determination.
128. I will in a moment ask my colleagues if
there are any other questions which they want to ask, but, before
I do that, first, and I have done this before with other witnesses,
is there any question that you are surprised that we have not
asked you; and, secondly, is there anything else you would like
to say of a concluding nature?
(Mr Watson) Could I just put on record, Mr Chairman,
I think it is in our submission to you, but for the record again,
it is interesting to note that on 25 April 1997 the Parades Commission
wrote to Grand Lodge, seeking a nomination for the Institution,
for us to provide expert advice on a Code of Conduct. We confirmed,
on 2nd June that year, that we were willing to nominate two representatives
to meet with the Parades Commission on this specific issue; sadly,
that was never taken up by the Parades Commission. And then, of
course, to our horror, we wrote to the Commission on 13 October
that year, expressing surprise that they had proceeded without
the involvement of a major player in Northern Ireland, in relation
129. I may have misheard you. Did I not hear
1997 was the first sentence?
(Mr Watson) Yes. It is interesting to note that on
25 April 1997 the Parades Commission
130. The 25 April 1997 was prior to the General
(Mr Watson) Yes, but the Parades Commission was in
place on that day in its original form; subsequently, when the
new Government went into power the Secretary of State then gave
the Parades Commission the extra powers.
131. I was inferring we are talking about continuity,
in terms of the strategy for it?
(Mr Watson) And, likewise, the other concern the Institution
would have is that there does not seem to be any audit procedure
in relation to the workings of the Parades Commission, and that
does give us great concern.
Chairman: Do any of my colleagues have anything
they want to ask: Mr Grogan.
132. Sorry to delay you, Chairman, but just
one, quick question, because I am just trying to clarify the position
as regards if the Parades Commission were abolished what you would
see in its place, because I seem to detect a slight difference
between Mr Watson, who seemed to indicate that he could see circumstances
where the power to ban marches, or parades, should be retained
by the Secretary of State and the police should have some powers
regarding modifying routes, and Reverend Bingham, who seemed to
imply that, in his view, the right to parade was one that could
not be challenged by the police under any circumstances. And I
just wonder, is there an overall position, which is it, is it
(Mr Bingham) I think mine was in response to a different
question. The question I was answering was did I believe that
the police should force a parade down, and I said, yes, I do believe
that they should do that.
133. And that the police should not have powers
(Mr Bingham) No, I did not comment on that, I just
made the point that I thought if a parade was legitimate that
it should be forced down.
134. Can I ask you whether you agree with Mr
(Mr Bingham) Absolutely, yes.
135. That the Secretary of State should reserve
powers and the police should be able to modify routes, if necessary?
(Mr Bingham) It happens here, it happened with your
(Mr Watson) I know there have been occasions when,
in consultation with the RUC, we have looked at the various options
for parades throughout Northern Ireland, to come to an agreement
for the benefit of all concerned in the community.
(Mr Bingham) Can I just clarify something there. The
only question I thought you might have asked me was did I have
any applications with me to join the Orange Order, maybe you wanted
Mr Pound: Half the Committee are already members.
136. That is, if I may say so, a happy note
on which to conclude the meeting.
(Mr Bingham) If I could clarify an answer perhaps
that I gave to Mr Pound with regard to an IRA Sinn Fein parade,
that parade in the village was just pre-Parades Commission, they
would not have made a decision on that parade at that time; although
it did take place, it was pre-Parades Commission.
Chairman: Let me reiterate my appreciation,
when you arrived, at your coming to give evidence to us, we are
very grateful to you for having done so. Now should you want to
let us have any other information in writing afterwards, please
do not hesitate; and I have indicated to the Clerk there is one
question on which I would like to follow up in writing, but he
will do that directly with you. Thank you.
1 Editorial Footnote: For a summary of correspondence
between the Committee and Grand Lodge regarding Mr Watson's answer
see Appendix 23, p 308. See also the Committee's Sixth Report,
HC 521. Back