Examination of witness (Questions 1 -
WEDNESDAY 3 MAY 2000
1. Mr Holland, you are very welcome. Thank you
very much indeed both for the information which you sent us in
advance, or the Commission sent us in advance, and also for coming
to give evidence to us today. We operate, as you probably know,
under a local ground rule that any witness should feel entirely
free subsequently to gloss any answer they have given us, whether
at the time or in writing afterwards, and we will reserve the
right to come back with a supplementary question in writing if
a question occurs to us on reading the transcript on which we
want further information. We will endeavour to make sure that
the questions follow a logical order, but that means that they
may come from different places in the horse shoe as and when particular
people ask questions. Let me preface any questions by asking if
there is anything you would like to say to us before we begin?
(Mr Holland) Thank you, Chairman, Members. I do welcome
the opportunity to have a preliminary canter, if I may, before
you on some of the matters that no doubt will be touched upon
this afternoon. First of all I want to say thank you for giving
me the opportunity of being here at all. The first thing I want
to stress is that to a certain extent we are all, in my context
in the Commission, myself and my Commission members, with one
exception, fairly new members. The Commission has only been in
being, from our point of view, for ten weeks. The first thing
I ought to do is to pay tribute to Sir Alastair Graham who with
his colleagues, for the first two years of the Commission's life,
had to make a large number of hard decisions which I think has
built for us a foundation which we will try to build on ourselves
and to improve and develop the thoughts of the Commission in relation
to this vexed issue of parades. Obviously it is not going to be
an easy task for us because we only have one member from the former
Commission who is still a member of the Commission, we have five
new members plus myself. Nevertheless, we are well served by a
secretariat. Heather Robinson, who was the secretary until last
week, has been replaced on a pro tem basis by David Hill, who
is with me today, together with Sir John Pringle and John Cousins
who are two of my colleagues on the Commission. The major thing
that we have had to address since we started in the middle of
February is the fact that a review had been put in process by
the Government and we are still looking at that and considering
its long-term effects upon our own deliberations. Our main concern
is to build upon what happened before and to take forward some
of the ideas that were developed by the previous Commission. There
is a lot of work to be done and we have a number of targets that
we want to try to achieve. To that end we are going to spend two
days together later on this month in the Province, two away days,
if you like, developing some of our ideas and thoughts and, indeed,
looking in more detail at the substance of the review process.
I think that is all I want to say at this stage, I appreciate
you will have many questions you will want to put to me and I
will endeavour, so far as I can with the limited experience I
have had on the Commission, to answer those questions. I should
say this also, that the other limitation I have is I come anew
or afresh, if you like, to this particular area. I have no connection
with Northern Ireland. Therefore, my learning curve has been pretty
steep. I would not say that I have anything like reached the top
of it but I hope I am some way up the incline.
2. Thank you very much indeed for those opening
remarks. Let me ask some ground clearing questions. Could you
remind us of the size of the Commission staff?
(Mr Holland) It is around 11 to 12. Currently it is
two people short because of recruitment that is taking place.
We also have the added advantage of using, if you like, as part
of our staff the authorised officers who are contracted through
the Mediation Network of Northern Ireland.
3. What sort of budget do you have overall?
(Mr Holland) It is just over £1 million. The
budget for 2000-2001 is £1.136 million. I am not too familiar
with the budget to be perfectly honest.
4. That is all right, £1 million gives
us a flavour. Would you like to say a little more about the authorised
officers and the amount of business you do in fact contract out?
(Mr Holland) Yes. The amount that we contract out
to the MNNI is currently under discussion. When we arrived at
the Commission we were faced with the fact that a contract had
been entered into which is up for revision currently and is being
looked at. The budget last year was something around £200,000.
It consists of time that we obtained from two members of the MNNI,
that is Brendan McAlistair and Joe Campbell, plus the use of the
authorised officers who are set up in twos throughout the Province
in particular areas and they, of course, on the ground have a
very detailed knowledge of the parties who are involved, the residents,
and those who want to exercise their right to parade.
5. You are welcome, Mr Holland, I apologise
for missing the start of your introduction. A general question
in as much as the Commission has had a statutory role and statutory
powers since February 1998, a reasonably short period of time.
I wonder if you could tell us what progress you feel has been
made in improving the acceptance of the concept of a body with
statutory powers and regulating parades amongst the populace?
(Mr Holland) From what I have seen, and it is based
only on ten weeks visiting the Province roughly for two days a
week in each of those ten weeks with an exception in the middle
of March, and also from looking at a lot of press cuttings and
reading a fair amount of material on the background, I think there
is an acceptance to a lesser or greater extent. I think it is
probably to a lesser extent by some of the loyal orders, but not
all of them, and I think to a greater extent by some of the residents
of the areas affected by some of the contentious marches. I also
get the impression that it is a different kind of acceptance in
different areas. That sounds an odd way of putting it but I think
in some areas there is a greater degree of acceptance than perhaps
in other areas. I think if I had to obtain anything helpful from
the review it would be that, in fact, amongst the ordinary people
of Northern Ireland there is quite considerable acceptance of
the fact that the Commission has to make hard decisions, and they
are hard decisions, I quite accept that, and they do cause pain
to both sides on occasions, those decisions have to be made. It
is better if they are made by the Commission than what previously
used to happen. I think to that extent we do obtain the consent
of the vast majority of people but I have no grounds for saying
that rather than a feeling based only on ten weeks.
6. You mentioned the Northern Ireland Office
review which, of course, commented on the need for a greater educative
role. If we take the whole concept of the public perception of
the Commission, what steps has the Commission taken to promote
greater understanding by the general public of issues concerning
the Parades Commission?
(Mr Holland) I think it took a great number of steps
when it was first set up in relation to sending out brochures
to every household in Northern Ireland and, of course, Alastair
Graham was always available for interviews and so on on what the
Commission is doing. While I have been thereI cannot claim
any originality behind this because it was already in place or
the instrument setting it in place was in placethe website
has been created and I think that is certainly important. We do
however, in my view, need to have a much greater opportunity provided
to everyone to meet us. We are going to consider this question
of communication certainly at our meeting next week or the week
after next actually so we can make ourselves more visible, I think
greater visibility is the word I am looking for, in the Province,
so that there can be a realisation that, yes, we are doing a very
difficult job. We do make mistakes, obviously, everybody makes
mistakes, but we are making these hard decisions, sometimes in
my view quite correctly.
7. You say there will be a general perception
of the role and then there will be perhaps a slightly different
perception in those areas where there are contentious parades.
(Mr Holland) Quite.
8. In respect of the educative role that the
Commission has, do you think that it is different? I think you
had already started to say it was in respect of those areas where
there is contention and the general perception.
(Mr Holland) Yes, I think it is quite different because
in those areas where there is a clear unhappiness, if you like,
the contentious areas where the parades take place, it becomes
increasingly clear to me that a ready acceptance of the Commission
is going to take some considerable time. I do not think that there
is an appreciation that we are there at all. I think, however,
my great belief is by meeting people, talking to people and trying
to educate them as to what we are about will help. It is not a
total palliative. I think that time is the only real answer in
all this. It would be quite wrong for me to come in, and I do
emphasise this, to say that I have a ready answer after ten weeks.
It is going to take a considerable amount of time on my part to
get a real feel for some of the issues, I very much realise that.
Having said that, however, I have always taken the view that if
one is relatively open, and particularly if one is open to suggestions
and ideas, and tries to be susceptible to listening to people's
arguments and giving them a balanced view and a balanced judgment
in the end, you will make some progress. It will not be total
progress because many of the people concerned, of course, do not
want to listen to what you have to say, they do not really want
to believe in the Commission. All we can do is to keep hammering
away at the idea that the Commission is the only way forward,
there are no alternatives in town on this issue.
9. The final part of the question, it is a general
question again. If we look beyond the statutory role and the regulation
of parades, do you think progress is being made in that deficit
that was identified in terms of the educative role of the Commission?
(Mr Holland) It is too early to say that, I think,
from my own knowledge. I would hope so but you can never do too
much in this area in my view. Certainly it is my intentionto
use an old fashioned expressionto be out and about as much
as possible, to spend as much time as I can in the Province to
that end. I intend to have a lot of lunches and dinners and address
people and talk to people so far as I can.
Chairman: Dr Palmer, I know you have a later
question you want to ask but I think you have some questions you
would like to ask now.
10. Yes. Firstly, I would like to welcome you
also to the Committee meeting. It is very kind of you to come.
(Mr Holland) Thank you.
11. What steps has the Commission taken to promote
and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning
public processions? In particular, do you see any conflict of
interest or conflict of role between the duty to encourage mediation
and the statutory authority to issue a determination?
(Mr Holland) The steps that we have taken in the past,
the Commission has taken in the past, have been to engage the
Mediation Network of Northern Ireland and that is at an official
level. Also, there have been private meetings in the past between
the Commission and the various parties. It has not and cannotfor
reasons I will explain in a minutedirectly get itself involved
in the mediation role as a direct player, it has to facilitate
it and promote it. The reason being that if we did then immediately
we become tainted in relation to a decision making process. That
is the second part of your question. If we do not tread very carefully
we can, by getting too involved in mediation, contaminate the
decision making process. Having said that, there is no doubt that
the Commission as reconstituted has a particular desire to take
some more steps and to build upon what went before to facilitate
mediation. One of our members is Dr Roy Magee and certainly he
has a considerable interest in this. It is interesting in many
ways. I came to this job really from a commercial/legal background
where my entire life has been spent making deals. I was there
to facilitate deals between conflicting interests of different
clients. Therefore, my naturalif you likeinclination
is to try and make deals which of course we cannot do, first of
all because we must not contaminate the process and, secondly,
because each application for a parade stands in its own right.
Whereas you might say it would be nice to do a deal for two or
three years and to get the thing sorted out that way and to bring
some degree of certainty both to the residents and to the organisers
of these paradesand that would be very important to themit
is very difficult to do that. I am trying to see at the moment
if it is possible to do it using a mediation role but I have not
yet come to a conclusion. It is one of the things we will be talking
about at our away day. I am sorry to keep talking about this away
day but we are only ten weeks into our existence.
12. Those whoto put it delicatelyare
particularly convinced of the justice of their cause sometimes
criticise mediation on the grounds that it implies both sides
have to give ground even if one side is arguably in the right.
Do you have a comment on that? Do you feel that in that situation
it is necessary to give ground even if you feel you are sure you
are in the right or do you feel that there would be circumstances
where you would say to one side "I am sorry but you are wrong"?
(Mr Holland) I think obviously in the contentious
areas both sides believe fundamentally that they are in the right
and, therefore, that is why one sees occasionally mediation is
not going to work in that particular scenario because their views
are so deeply entrenched and held that mediation is not going
to produce a solution. My experience, if I can put it like that,
not of mediation but where you have that kind of situation, is
that very often if mediation is there perhaps you can get some
kind of long term solution involving a bit of give and take, which
everyone recognises is give and take. But I think to try and mediate
an individual decision is the trickier task and probably, as I
think Mediation Network in Northern Ireland said, impossible in
13. Before I turn to Mr McGrady can I just get
clear in terms of the answers you were giving to Dr Palmer a moment
ago, the difficulties you found yourself in. Were they a function
of the strait jacket of the legislation or just a matter of principle?
(Mr Holland) It is really the legislation I think
because the legislation implicitly talks about each application
being the subject of a decision by the Parades Commission. You
cannot bundle up, if you like, a scenario together and say "What
is the right way forward for that particular scenario or that
particular area". Before I say they ought to change legislation,
I think I would want to think about whether if they did change
it that would meet the particular problem. You could say, well,
you cannot bundle things together like that because different
attitudes and different things are brought to bear at different
times depending on the particular year in question or the particular
circumstance in that particular year. You cannot really forecast
what the position will be, for example, in 2002 and so on. Really
it does mean that you have got to accept the straitjacket, if
it is a straitjacket, of legislation, and try and put together
some package, if you like, outside that, not involving mediation
but a kind of mediation which might be brokering a deal.
14. I was not in any way seeking to put you
in a position where you had to find fault with the legislation
but I assume I am right in inferring from your answers that they
are issues about which you are continuing to think?
(Mr Holland) Yes, that is exactly right.
15. Welcome, Mr Holland. Can I deal with some
practical questions. I take note that you have only been ten weeks
in post. The Commission has a duty to keep itself informed of
the conduct at processions and, indeed, the conduct at protest
meetings. How do you achieve this assessment? How do you separate
evidence from subjective judgments? Is there any general pattern
you have learned from these practical observations on the ground?
(Mr Holland) From what I have seen so far, we rely
primarily upon the reports that we get from the police. We also
have the evidence of the Authorised Officers who observe what
takes place at individual parades and we may well have, and often
do have, letters from the members of the public who have a view
they want to express after the parade. So far, and this is very
much a premature view I have not shared with anybody else, I have
felt slightly interested as to why they do not have a greater
formal post mortem report. It may well be that was looked at by
the previous Commission, I do not know if it was or not, and there
were found to be reasons why it was not worth the effort. I think
that certainly it is something I want to look at. What we do have
at the moment gives us a very clear view as to what happened,
but a post mortem report formally put together might produce a
little bit more information. I am being very frank about this
because, as I say, it is still something in my mind.
16. In that context, would you anticipate that
the Commission would make any comparative studies of events elsewhere
either in the UK or worldwide of comparable problems in order
to draw lessons from them, if possible?
(Mr Holland) This Commission has not. I know that
the previous Commission went to America, I think to Washington,
to Boston and I suspect New York as well, to see what they could
learn from that. Having spent many months working in those cities
I was not quite so enthusiastic about going myself. At this stage
I have not given any further thought to that.
17. The Commission has made recommendations,
as I understand it, to the Secretary of State regarding the operation
of the Public Processions Order. How has the Secretary of State
in the Northern Ireland Office responded to these recommendations
from the Commission?
(Mr Holland) I cannot answer that question because
I just do not know whether they have or not.
18. They may not have answered you?
(Mr Holland) I have no knowledge of that answer.
19. Would it be possible in the fullness of
time to have an answer on it?
(Mr Holland) I will let you have a written answer
to that question.