Letter to the Clerk from the Northern
Ministers have asked me to thank your Committee
sincerely for their examination of the work of the Parades Commission.
I now enclose a memorandum in response to those recommendations
directed to the Government, and on which we have corresponded,
where appropriate, with the Chairman of the Commission.
As mentioned in the memorandum, we are still awaiting
the outcome of judicial proceedings bearing on a point raised
by the Committee. This hearing has already been postponed several
times, however, and may be so again; but I understand the Committee
would prefer a reply sooner rather than later.
I hope the Committee finds the response helpful.
24 October 2001
We recommend that, when the next round of appointments
is due to be made, particular efforts are made to attract high
calibre candidates from sections of the community which are presently
under-represented on the Parades Commission.
When appointments were last being made to the Parades
Commission, regardless of the measures we took to stimulate a
broad spectrum of interest, we began the selection process with
a pool of applicants in which Protestants outnumbered Roman Catholics
by more that two to one, and men outnumbered women by almost five
to one. Appointments being made on merit, the recommendations
we put to the Secretary of State reflected those proportions.
When appointments next fall to be made, we propose
to take such affirmative action as is justified, before the process
of selection begins, to seek to secure a balanced pool from which
to draw, perhaps using recruitment consultants with that specific
It would have been helpful Y
if the Government had made clear its intention to abandon the
proposal to bring forward the date of application of the Human
Rights Act 1998 to parades legislation.
recommendation is in principle entirely accepted.
We view with some concern the Chairman's
view that the Commission's
procedures in relation to decisions on parades may be open to
challenge on the grounds of natural justice. We recommend that
the Government and the Commission consider urgently whether the
procedures need to be improved by greater transparency and, if
so, put the necessary steps in hand.
There is a clear conflict between the Commission's
desire for transparency in gathering evidence, and the concerns
of many on both sides of the community that their evidence be
kept strictly confidential. There are many situations, particularly
in small, closely-knit communities, where those who gave evidence
might find themselves the targets of a backlash B
the Commission has had recent experience of allegations of this
kind. The police would also have legitimate concerns.
Further deliberations await the outcome of legal
action. A representative of a band has made a legal case concerning
disclosure and confidentiality, but the review has been deferred
several times, most recently on 22nd October.
The Commission saw a number of practical difficulties
with the concept of linkage of parades, rather than always considering
them separately as the current legislation requires, not least
because it appeared to mean different things to different people.
It has, however, considered the matter further and concluded that
it would be helpful if it had a power enabling it to make general
policy statements in relation to individual contentious areas
only. We recommend that the Government examine this proposal carefully.
The Government awaits specific proposals in this
regard. However, if such proposals are received and are compatible
with human rights law, the Government will consider amendments
to the legislation if necessary.
Although the Chairman of the Commission expressed
doubts over the present need for it to have the power to assist
litigants, we recommend that consideration be given to enabling
the Commission to contribute to the costs of parties taking cases
that raise points of general importance in relation to the clarification
of the application to parades of human rights law.
The various litigants who have taken judicial reviews
of Commission decisions have, in almost every case, done so with
the assistance of legal aid. By that means, therefore, the Government
already makes a financial contribution towards clarification of
human rights law.
Furthermore, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
already plays an important role in this area, which would be inappropriate
for the Parades Commission to duplicate.