Submission to the Northern Ireland Office
on the Review of the Parades Commission from Community Relations
November 1999 (Item 4 amended October 2000)
The Community Relations Council welcomes the
opportunity to make a submission to the Northern Ireland Office
on the review of the Parades Commission. The Council is aware
that issues surrounding some parades continue to provoke tension
and sometimes violence in a number of our communities. It also
recognises that such tension is often inimical to good community
The Council, in its submission to the Independent
Review of Parades in October 1996, argued that "the issue
of parades must take into account the multi-faceted nature of
the problem, and that attempts to address it on any single level,
or through any single initiative, will not be adequate".
The Council recognises the importance of having
a body separate from the police making determinations on parades.
This has created an important distinction between the authority
making a determination and the police who uphold it. It is also
important this distinction once created, is not removed.
In this submission the Community Relations Council
would make the following comments:
1. Impact of parades on community relations:
There is a connection between parades and community
relations, either in local contexts or across Northern Ireland.
The Parades Commission, in its determinations, comments on the
possible impact to community relations of a parade. However, there
is no indication of how this is monitored, either before or after
the event, so that outcomes can inform future decisions. Nor is
there any indication of a base line used in the setting of judgements.
The Council is aware that there is a formal
process for mediation through the Commission's "authorised
officers". There is also an informal system that has been
used on a number of occasions. These people have come from a variety
of backgrounds, church, community, business and political representatives.
The fact that these people are not part of any formal structure
has, on occasions, been the very reason why they have been able
to perform a useful function and assist in a satisfactory outcome.
In looking at the use of mediation it is critical that the roles
both of formal and informal mediators are validated.
The process that leads up to a determination
on a parade can be as significant as the determination itself.
The Council would recommend that the Commission be asked to pay
due regard to the process.
If process is seen to be as inclusive as possible,
the experience of the Council is that participants are more likely
to accept the decision made. There is also a greater chance of
an accommodation or acceptance by antagonistic parties rather
than each perceiving a decision as a "victory" or a
The Council believes that it is important that
the community relations principles of equity, diversity and interdependence
are critical in the delivery of policies in Northern Ireland.
The application of these principles are all important in contentious
areas such as parades.
The Community Relations Council, through a number
of funding measures, has provided support to enable the training
and assessment of marshals for the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and
Loyal Orange Lodge parades in Londonderry. The need for this type
of training has been recognised by observers. The need is also
highlighted in the Patten Report. There has not been a commitment
from Government for funding of this on a large scale. A number
of Further Education Colleges have expressed an interest in taking
up this training on a wider scale (than solely for parades). The
Council is concerned that if support is not given in the near
future, much of the good work of the pilot schemes might be lost.
Funding was provided by the Department of Higher
and Further Education and Training and Employment to enable FE
Colleges to train staff to enable them to deliver courses in marshalling.
The lead college is Dungannon FE College and as a result a number
of Lodges and Districts have commenced formal marshal training.
Attached is a copy of an article from The Times Educational
Supplement on this.
The Council, together with other funders (such
as Making Belfast Work, Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust) has
supported the use of mobile phones for community activists at
interface areas during periods of potential disruption. This has
been shown as an aid in reducing tensions. While not always directly
connected to parade disputes, there is often a link. Again, we
suggest that there is a need for this type of initiative to receive
formal support and not left to ad hoc funding.
The Community Relations Council and other community
relations agencies has supported the opening up of the debates
around parades and cultural diversity. Such debates are ways of
increasing dialogue and helping towards an understanding of the
issues involved. The Council wants to see this type of work develop.
It is also aware that people from the Loyal Orders have been prepared
to engage with the Council specifically because the Council is
not perceived as the body which makes determinations about parades
etc. We believe that our independence has been useful and has
assisted in the opening up of dialogue and testing of initiatives
such as the marshal training and the Maiden City Festival. Until
now, the Council has kept the Commission informed on an ad
hoc basis. It now believes that more regular contact, possibly
on a six monthly basis, would be useful. The Council however is
anxious to distance itself from any formal part of the determination
process as this might affect its perceived neutrality and its
ability to engage with those who are opposed to the Parades Commission.
4 Not reported. Back