NIO REVIEW OF THE PARADES COMMISSION: RATIONALE
In setting out the functions of the Commission,
section 2(1) of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 requires
it, inter alia, "to promote greater understanding
by the general public of issues concerning public processions".
Ministers felt that the Commission's approach
to the handling of contentious parades was widely acknowledged
as credible and necessary. However, there remained some resistance,
typically in areas where the more contentious parades took place.
Further, the Orange Order still refused to engage with the Commission.
Rather than accept this as inevitable, Ministers were keen for
the Commission to try to overcome this resistance.
To this end, Ministers recommended that the
Commission do more through:
a clearer and more consistent explanation
in determinations of the basis and principles applied (determinations
were already available on the website); and
a clearer explanation of the Commission's
understanding of "engagement", probably in the 1999-2000
Annual Report, based on indicators.
Although the Commission has several distinct,
though related, functions under the Act, Ministers were concerned
that the media focus on its adjudicative role tended to obscure
its other functions. It is charged specifically with promoting
and facilitating mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning
public processions. Ministers took the view that a more widespread
awareness of that fact could only be helpful and, to that end,
recommended that the Commission:
make a greater and better targeted
effort to explain its own role (better exploitation of the existing
website, CD-ROM for schools, radio phone-in etc);
issue a guide on all forms of third
develop a list of those willing to
provide more support and resources
to local efforts to develop such skills.
The review was conducted by officials from the
NIO, who made visits to particular locations and groups, and wrote
to other groups and individuals requesting structured written
responses and/or meetings. Consultation took place from early
November 1999 to late January 2000.
After consultation, the immediately apparent
common ground among those contacted (including David Trimble/UUP,
Sinn Fein, the Grand Orange Lodge and the Garvaghy Road Residents'
Coalition) was the need for a "rights-based approach".
It was apparent that all thought such an approach would favour
their own particular position although, as has since been seen,
the issues are actually complex.
In considering how best to provide for and demonstrate
such a rights-based approach, and in consultation with legal advisers,
the review team concluded that the early application of the Human
Rights Act to the Public Processions Act had obvious attractions.
Ministers took the view that, if the courts
moved early to clarify the Convention points at issue, the Commission's
job could be made easier in framing future decisions and in demonstrating
their underlying even-handedness and predictability. While both
sides would not necessarily be satisfied with the outcome, the
fact that both had called for a more rights-dominated approach
would increase the PR price for resorting to violence if they
lost. The move to a courts-based system would also remove once
and for all the suspicion that these decisions were made on political
grounds by the Government, and make the task of policing determinations
Although the idea in abstract had had universal
support, the Secretary of State decided to test this specific
recommendation with the police, the courts, the Judiciary and
the Human Rights Commission, and announced a further period of
consultation. As stated in our oral evidence, this showed that
the early implementation proposal did not command the support
of some key players, and the recommendation was dropped accordingly.