Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Unionist Party (NIUP) welcomes
your invitation to submit written evidence to the enquiry into
the Parades Commission by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select
The position of the NIUP is that the Parades
Commission should not be "enhanced" but rather abolished.
The reason for this position may be outlined as follows.
The core function of government is to maintain
public order and to protect the basic rights and freedom of citizens.
The right to use the public thoroughfare for inherently lawful
activity is a fundamental right of citizens in a democratic and
The routes used by the Loyal Orders in their
parades are public thoroughfares and the Loyal Order parades are
inherently lawful activities. These are indisputable propositions
that entail an obvious corollary. The corollary is that action
by government or an agency of government to prohibit members of
the Loyal Orders from using their traditional (that is, long established)
routes for Loyal Order parades that are inherently lawful is a
fundamental breach of their basic rights as citizens of the United
But that is precisely what the Parades Commission
has done on numerous occasions since the Commission was established
in 1998. This means that the Parades Commission is in principle
and in effect operating as an unelected and unaccountable instrument
to deprive law-abiding citizens and lawful organisations of their
These considerations mean that the law passed
by Parliament to establish the Parades Commission is itself a
corruption of legality in the normative and evaluative sense of
that word and therefore a gross abuse of the legislative sovereignty
of Parliament. Unfortunately, citizens in the United Kingdom (and
specifically in Northern Ireland) have no redress against this
abuse of legislative sovereignty by Parliament. But in, for example,
the United States it is beyond dispute that the law that established
the Parades Commission would not be permitted by the US Constitution.
The Parades Commission is therefore at its legal
root an affront to law-abiding citizens and law-abiding organisations
such as the Loyal Orders. The radical unacceptability of the Parades
Commission is reinforced by at least two other considerations.
The first consideration is the well-grounded perception in Northern
Ireland that the Parades Commission was established in response
to (and indeed as an appeasement of) Irish nationalist threats
to public order. Sinn Fein/IRA orchestrated this Irish nationalist
threat to public order on the basis of a Sinn Fein/IRA strategy
to provoke public confrontation and agitation in the pursuit of
their political objectives.
The second consideration is that the Parades
Commission effectively operates on the basis of the attempt to
impose on the members of the Loyal Orders a requirement that no
self-regarding citizen should feel under the slightest obligation
to meet. The requirement that seems to be central to the activity
of the Parades Commission is that representatives of the Loyal
Orders must actually negotiate their right to the use of public
thoroughfares in circumstances where this use is contested under
a threat of violence.
What is the problem with the attempt to require
law-abiding citizens to negotiate the right to use a public thoroughfare?
The first problem in the case of Northern Ireland is that the
Parades Commission is in effect demanding that the representatives
of the Loyal Orders should conduct these negotiations with convicted
terrorists who currently act on behalf of Sinn Fein/IRA. This
is, quite simply, an intolerable demand that itself is sufficient
(apart from the fact that the Parades Commission exists on the
basis of a corruption of legality) to put the Loyal Orders in
a position of legitimately refusing to deal with the Parades Commission.
But there is an even more fundamental second
consideration implicit throughout our submission. The consideration
is that in a State in which legality is informed by the protection
of the rights of citizens there should never be any question of
citizens having to negotiate their right to use the public thoroughfare.
The function of government or the State is not to resolve political
disagreement between citizens. The function of government is to
ensure that political disagreement between citizens is conducted
within the constraints of law designed to protect and enhance
the freedom and rights of citizens. The operation and stability
of a democratic system of government crucially requires that citizens
agree to conduct their political disagreements within a framework
of law that exists to protect/safeguard their rights as citizens.
The framework of law to which all citizens must
comply in a democracy will include the rights of citizens to use
the public thoroughfare. Agreement on such a framework of law
is the only agreement between citizens that a democracy fundamentally
requires. But because agreement to conduct political disagreement
within the constraints of law directed towards the protection
of the freedom of citizens is a necessary condition for the operation
of democracy then this specific agreement must be enforced by
Specifically, these considerations mean that
in the case of the Loyal Orders the State has the fundamental
duty to protect the right of the Loyal Orders to use their traditional
parade routes. But the very existence of the Parades Commission
represents the abdication of this fundamental duty on the part
of Parliament. That, crucially, is the reason for the NIUP demand
that the Parades Commission must be abolished to fully protect
the core rights of law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland.
15 December 2000