Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witness (Questions 40 - 59)

WEDNESDAY 3 MAY 2000

MR TONY HOLLAND

  40. Are there other reasons for areas being considered to be contentious apart from the fact that people from one community are maybe going through areas that are dominated by other communities, or is it the essential problem that exists as far as the communities are concerned?
  (Mr Holland) I think it is the essential difference between the Nationalist and the Unionist areas that we are talking about. There are some areas that are demographically neutral, if you like, business areas, and obviously there are areas where you have a lot of public houses and that can also impact upon the issue where you have people having free access to alcohol and there are no toilet facilities around and so on. There are a whole range of minor issues like that.

  41. To what extent has the work of the Commission been influenced by the broader political situation in the Province as we have moved from the Good Friday Agreement for instance?
  (Mr Holland) This is my own personal opinion, I do have to emphasise that. When first I was spoken to about this particular role it was emphasised to me at the time that devolution was in progress and that it was one of the most important jobs that remained to be done in Northern Ireland. By the time I actually was appointed devolution had stopped. We have a situation where there is inevitably now a great deal of uncertainty. Plainly what happens in the next few months will go one way or the other possibly. I think, therefore, from my point of view, I would be less than honest if I did not say that it seems to me when you have a lot of uncertainty, a vacuum if you like, it is more sensible than not to be very careful about the way you consider the issue of disorder, the issue of disruption. I think that can make an inflamed situation perhaps even more inflamed. In so far as I am aware of that, it is part of, if you like, my awareness, that is all I can say about how the political dimension impacts upon me personally.

  42. These political or institutional considerations move in different directions.
  (Mr Holland) They do.

  43. There is the Good Friday Agreement, then there is the suspension of the operation of the institutions. It is whether there is a reflection of that that is contained in the contentious nature of parades. It might be, I suppose, that in periods of what look like relative political harmony what occurs is it might be added to as far as the parades are concerned, that might be the expression of the feelings that people have that come out within the disputes about the territory that people walk through.
  (Mr Holland) I think that is absolutely right. You are trying to say what does each individual member of the Commission think in the context of what the present position is. All I can say is how I think and plainly it seems to me sensible at this stage that one does not want a lot of disorder because the situation is not an easy one at the moment. If things were more harmonious it probably would not be quite so important. These are things which obviously each Commissioner will bear in his own mind. I can give you my own views, and obviously it is only one relatively minor aspect of how you come to a particular decision and that is only after ten weeks. It may be I will change, I do not know, I am just trying to be quite frank with you as to how I arrive at decisions.

Mr Hunter

  44. Chairman, my first question follows on from what Mr Barnes has just been asking. In your submission, Mr Holland, you refer to the five statutory criteria by which the Commission is required to decide about parades. But you personally cited to the media the difficulties which the Good Friday Agreement is experiencing as one of the prevailing factors in the decision to re-route the Apprentice Boys March Parade on the Ormeau Road on 24 April.
  (Mr Holland) Yes.

  45. You may recall, perhaps you saw, that the Newsletter the next day had an editorial on this and made the point "If that is the case then the Commission is operating outside its remit. The Apprentice Boys do not deserve to be penalised because of the difficulties in the political process over which they have little influence and no responsibility. The Commission has no right to depart from its terms of reference or from its decision making criteria". What is your reply?
  (Mr Holland) It is really a repeat of what I have just said to Mr Barnes in the sense that each Commissioner is coming to a decision having regard to a whole range of circumstances. It regards the evidence that has been given to it, both in the application formally and in the evidence it has received from the parties concerned. In the case of any decision you will have regard also to what the engagements, such as have taken place, produce by way of information and then you have regard to the circumstances. The relevant section which is sub-section 6 of section 8 does set out five particular factors. Now I was trying to indicate in what I was saying that you do not make these decisions in a legal vacuum, you make them in relation to a process in your own mind which takes into account all the circumstances in a given area at a given time. It was that that I was trying to indicate, speaking personally, as to the view I had taken. I do not want to unpick, and indeed I am not prepared to unpick before anybody, an individual decision made by the Commission as a whole. I am trying, however, to indicate to you how I approach these things and what I think at the time I make these decisions.

  46. I do not think I am asking you to unpick a decision, I am just trying to clarify whether or not the Newsletter is right to say that the Commission was operating outside its remit and how binding and exclusive the statutory criteria are. I think you are telling us that you do not regard the statutory criteria as restrictive in any sense.
  (Mr Holland) There are guidelines. It says "The guidelines shall in particular but without prejudice to the generality of Section 5..." and as you know Section 5 issues a set of guidelines. I have a copy here and I am sure you have seen them. This inevitably means that you take into account the thing as though it is not being done in a vacuum. You have to take into account the circumstances in the Province at any one time, not in any political sense but as a matter of fact so far as concerns the community in which the parades take place.

  47. Turning to another point, I think you will recognise the quotation, "The Commission reiterates its frequently quoted position, the parades are not subject to a veto by those who oppose them" and another short quotation, "A veto by indulging in an unlawful protest is viewed negatively by this Commission". But it was "a very real danger of serious unlawful activity on the part of opponents of the Apprentice Boys Parade on 24 April" which was a significant reason for your route determination. Have you not made the threat of violence an effective and available tactic for those who wish to deny others the opportunity to express their culture and religion?
  (Mr Holland) I do not think the Commission has made it a threat, I think it is a fact that if you have illegal activity then inevitably that threat, wherever it comes from, whichever side, whether it is from the parade organisers or the loyal orders or anybody else, represents, as a matter of common sense, a kind of veto. It is what worries the Commission because you see you cannot ignore what is being said. On the other hand, you cannot allow it to veto Commission decisions and all you can do is to say "Well, in that particular circumstance, in that particular area at that particular time this represents our view as to what should happen". It brings me back to this issue of consistency. It will not necessarily follow that the same decision will come about at the same parade on another occasion. You cannot create the same situation each time. Then, of course, we have to have regard to the advice which we receive which we always seek from the police. We have to ask them what the difficulties are of policing a particular parade, having regard to the numbers involved, and indeed having regard to the circumstances of the parade generally, and then having taken all that evidence we then come to a decision. I can say no more about that really, I think I have gone as far as I can in trying to explain what we do. There is no perfect set of circumstances in any situation.

  48. Would you agree there is tension between those two quotations I referred to earlier and the fact that in your route determination on 24 April you actually bowed to the very real danger of serious unlawful activity?
  (Mr Holland) I accept on that occasion that could appear to be the view taken, yes.

  49. One very last point. The Commission's position is that engagement by either party represents a real attempt to address the different concerns of others. Dr Palmer touched on this earlier. Bearing in mind that the Belfast Walker Club carried out their commitment to a series of engagements with the LOCC during winter, I think there were seven meetings after the August march last year, does not that amount to an attempt to positive engagement? In the light of the ruling that day can one be surprised that, again in the words of the Newsletter, "there is a growing belief among members of loyal institutions that whatever they do it will not be enough to satisfy the Commission"?
  (Mr Holland) They could take that view, they would be wrong to do so.

  Chairman: Before I call Mr Donaldson I would like bilaterally and subliminally to communicate to him that we are shortly going to have a vote in the House and if he can, in fact, ask his questions in such a way that we can terminate this session with the vote then it will be convenient to the minute.

Mr Donaldson

  50. Thank you, Chairman, I shall endeavour to do that. Mr Holland, the remit of our inquiry is as follows: "To examine the operation of the Parades Commission since its inception and to consider within the existing framework of law and structures and in the light of the conclusions of the Northern Ireland Office's review of the Commission how its effectiveness might be enhanced." You will understand that if the Parades Commission were a football team and we were wanting to examine its effectiveness, we could not ignore the results of the games in which it had played.
  (Mr Holland) I clearly understand that.

  51. And yet you are asking us to conduct an inquiry without examining in some detail the decisions taken by your Commission. Surely that is not credible?
  (Mr Holland) The difficulty is I have a—

Mr Pound

  52. Sorry, we were just pointing out that there was a new manager who had just taken over at the club and, therefore, we are in an Egil Olsen situation.
  (Mr Holland) I am not sure who he is.

  53. He was the manager of Wimbledon football club.
  (Mr Holland) I cannot unpick the decisions of the previous Commission plainly, and indeed I have not even read more than, I suppose, about two dozen of them in so far as they relate to decisions that have been made by the present Commission. It would be quite wrong in a judicial sense in my view, and as I say I stand by this, for me to unpick individual decisions and justify to you those decisions because they were built upon a ream of evidence, upon a lot of considerations that were entered into by the Commission at the time and having had a lot of people give their advice to us. You may take the view that you disagree with it, and I fully accept your right to do so, but we are charged with having to make a decision and we try to make it clear. In particular in relation to the one that was identified by Mr Hunter we went to great lengths in that particular decision to set out a number of signposts for the future to assist the parties concerned because plainly we would like to see resolution in that particular area. To try to truncate into a five minute answer to your question what lay behind individual decisions would be quite wrong.

  54. Yes, Mr Holland, but you are accountable to Parliament and this Committee is charged under this inquiry with examining your effectiveness. I am sympathetic to your point that you cannot answer for the decisions of the previous Commission but we can talk about decisions made under your chairmanship. It is extremely difficult for me to begin to understand the effectiveness and the reasoning for apparent contradictions in decisions taken by your Commission if you are not prepared to answer questions about certain aspects of those decisions which have a general application. I am not asking you here, and I am not about to ask you, to justify one decision or other but I think the Committee is entitled to know why the Commission takes different decisions which appear at variance with previous decisions it has taken and why there appear to be inconsistencies in the way in which you apply the criteria from determination to determination.
  (Mr Holland) As I have explained, there will always be inconsistencies because that is the nature of what we are doing. The circumstances change from time to time in relation to particular parades. You would have listened, I am sure, to what I said to Mr Barnes, that the climate in Northern Ireland was not the same in March of this year as it was throughout August. The climate does change from month to month. I do not mean that in a geographical sense but in the sense that where we have applications being made for parades in particular areas and we have a situation where the engagement which we have read about, in our case at great length because there were seven meetings and I know I read through, I know all the Commission did, roughly two inches piled high of the minutes, we had to form a view on those particular minutes of those engagements and the view that we formed led us to take the decision that we did take. The only way I could end up justifying that decision in so far as it concerned the context of the engagement would be to take you through the individual minutes, highlighting those parts which concern us, and I think that would not be helpful. All I have tried to do is to give you some indication as frankly as I can of those matters which impact upon me personally.

  55. I am sure you would agree that there was not much change in the atmosphere or the climate between March or April this year in Northern Ireland, we are talking about a matter of two or three weeks between the determination that you issued in respect of the parade in Kilkeel and the determination you issued in respect of the parade on the Lower Ormeau.
  (Mr Holland) I fully accept there was no change between March and April.

  56. Okay. Well then can we look at the inconsistencies between the determinations in those two parades.
  (Mr Holland) As I explained to you I cannot say to you anything about what happened at Kilkeel because I was not chairing that Commission.

  57. With respect, Mr Holland, you are the Chairman of the Parades Commission and you are accountable to Parliament for the decisions of the Parades Commission.
  (Mr Holland) I understand that. All I am saying to you is that my knowledge of what happened at the Kilkeel decision is limited to what effectively you can read because I was not there when the decision was made in relation to Kilkeel. For me to try and identify to you what the reasoning was beyond what is contained in the decision would be unhelpful. What I can do—

  58. Let us try. I am basing my questions on what I have read and the determinations which I assume you too have read.
  (Mr Holland) I have read it, but I have not got this in front of me now.

  59. Okay. Let us have a go. In respect of the parades in Kilkeel on 17 March, let us take the issue of public order. I accept that in different areas you will have different situations but public order is public order whether it is in Kilkeel, Belfast, London, Westminster, wherever.
  (Mr Holland) Absolutely.


 
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