Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witness (Questions 60 - 75)

WEDNESDAY 3 MAY 2000

MR TONY HOLLAND

  60. In respect of the Lower Ormeau Parade, and then your determination, you indicated that you consulted with the police and you were aware of the very real danger of serious public disorder should the parade proceed. I understand that the Commission was also advised by the RUC in respect of the parade in Kilkeel that should they permit the parade to follow the full route past the church there was a risk to public order. Yet, the Commission decided that the parade should proceed in Kilkeel, against the advice of the police, and used the advice of the police in respect of the Lower Ormeau Parade to justify the decision it had taken. How do you make that judgment? How does the Commission decide that the risk to public order in one place is different? There was, as we know from the media coverage public disorder in Kilkeel as a result, so the police's advice to the Commission was well founded as it turned out. How do you make that judgment as to whether the police advice in one area is somehow qualitatively different from the police advice in another?
  (Mr Holland) I cannot answer about what happened at Kilkeel, all I can tell you about is this. Where you have the same advice, if you like, as you have been notified from the police, there are other circumstances you will take into account. I cannot tell you, as I say—for the reason that I was not present when the decision was made—as to how the members of the Commission who were there, what their thought processes were. All I can say to you is this, that the advice that we receive from the police sometimes will be the same and sometimes will be slightly different. It appears from what you have told us just now that it was identical, although I have not got a copy of the reports from the police in each case, but there are other circumstances you take into account besides that, having regard to what the statutory implications of Section 8 are.

  61. Let us talk about another factor impacting on community relations. In your determination on the Lower Ormeau Parade of 24 April, you were concerned about the possible impact on community relations of permitting the parade to go ahead and that was again a factor in reaching the decision to ban the parade. Yet in Kilkeel, being aware of the potential impact on community relations and, in fact, in the determination making special mention of the impact on the families of victims who had latterly made representations to you, you still permitted the parade to go ahead. The impact on community relations in Kilkeel as a result of the parade and the unrest that followed has been, to say the least, very negative. Again, it appears there is an inconsistency between, on the one hand, desiring to safeguard community relations in the Lower Ormeau and disregarding the impact on community relations in permitting the parade to go ahead in Kilkeel.
  (Mr Holland) On the face of it I would agree with that suggestion. I cannot tell you what was in the minds of the Commissioners who made the Kilkeel decision, all I can tell you is that when we made the decision about the Lower Ormeau Road I gave an indication of what was in my mind. The impact on community relations is important, as is the view of the police, as are other factors, and you make a balancing decision at the end of it. You cannot achieve, and will never achieve, some kind of purist consistency from one decision to the other, as I suspect you are trying to suggest we should seek to achieve. What we can try to do is to make a decision in each case that reflects our concerns and takes into account the concerns of both the parade organisers and the community at the time we make that decision. Sometimes we will take a particular view about police warnings perhaps more strongly than at other times, but you are going to end up with a balancing judgment. It will be very easy thereafter to have hindsight or to gain say what should have been done. I believe that the decisions that have been referred to were correct decisions and I stand by them. I am sorry I cannot give you more information about the Kilkeel one because I was not there and, therefore, I cannot answer the question you are asking which is really how do they balance one against the other.

  Chairman: We have been caught by the division bell. Will you share with us how much more you have got, Mr Donaldson?

  Mr Donaldson: A couple more questions.

  Chairman: I think if you have got a couple more questions we do not want in any way to limit or to control Mr Holland's answers, we had probably better break for the division.

  The Committee was suspended from 17.27 to 17.40 for a division in the House.

  Chairman: We can resume. Mr Donaldson, I think you have one brief question you want to ask winding up a particular line of inquiry you have been following and then perhaps another question after that.

Mr Donaldson

  62. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Staying on these two parades, and the reason I am asking about these two parades is because these are, as I understand it, the two main or more controversial decisions you have taken since the new Commission has come into being so I want you to understand why I am looking at that.
  (Mr Holland) I do understand that.

  63. This issue of consultation in the determinations you mentioned, in respect of the Lower Ormeau situation, though, there has been a concern, and I have a concern about the extent of the consultation and indeed in respect of Kilkeel in terms of the impact on community relations, etcetera. For example, what consultations have been held with residents in the Donegal Pass area of the Lower Ormeau Road? I know that the judge summing up in the judicial review in respect of the decision on the determination on the Kilkeel parade was very critical of the Commission over its lack of consultation, for example its failure to consult the minister of Mourne Presbyterian Church, the former Moderator of the Church about the fact that the parade was going to pass his church when there is a memorial in the grounds of the church and indeed the fact, although this could not have been known at the time, that there was a funeral that took place on the day actually added to the problems and the tensions. How do you determine how much and to what extent consultation takes place with local communities and what are the criteria for that?
  (Mr Holland) We obviously want to consult as widely as possible because anything that can improve upon the validity of our decision has to be a good thing. I do regret actually what happened at Kilkeel in relation to the funeral. That was one of those unfortunate situations which arose which could not have been anticipated and I fully understand the hurt that must have caused. Kilkeel, as you say, went to judicial review and the decision was upheld and I accept the judge's criticism of the lack of consultation that you referred to. On that issue we tried to consult as widely as possible. We have authorised officers who advise as to what the flash points or areas of problem might be in that particular community. We advertise of course the fact the parade is going to take place. That will in itself produce comments from various people. We try and make as wide a trawl as possible. We will not always be successful and often timing is not on our side because we do not always have the full 28 days although we usually do. The answer is that anything we can do to improve our consultation process has to be a good thing and we always listen to anybody who wants to indicate to us how we can improve.

  64. St Patrick's Day is always on 17 March, Mr Holland, and therefore the Commission would have been aware well in advance of the traditional parade that takes place in Kilkeel and surely does it not indicate a problem with the quality of the authorised officers that you are using that they did not see fit to consult with the minister of the church in circumstances they knew were controversial in a town like Kilkeel? After the experiences you have had with taking decisions and consulting on a wide variety of parades that is such an obvious thing to do. Does the fact that that level of consultation was missed indicate there is something wrong somewhere in terms of the approach of the authorised officers?
  (Mr Holland) I do not think I can draw that conclusion although I can see why you might wish to. It may well be, for whatever reason, that the minister obviously was not consulted on that occasion but I have every confidence in the authorised officers I have met over the last ten weeks. I have not seen a weakness in them or anything that would cause them concern. If I do I will obviously correct it.

  65. Turning, Mr Chairman, to the parade at Drumcree, which of course had been an on-going situation for a number of years and pre-dates the Parades Commission, can you tell us, Mr Holland, what active steps the Commission are taking to resolve the situation at Drumcree?
  (Mr Holland) First of all, we can only determine, as our statutory objective, each application as it comes in and each application has to be considered on an independent basis, month by month, week by week, in the Drumcree case. We had noticed obviously in the determinations that we have made since we came into existence in February that there has been no attempt by the Loyal Order to engage in any kind of dialogue in that area. But in relation to the fact that circumstances have not changed week by week we have made our determinations in the way we have. Looking to the future I would rather not, if you do not mind, sir, in this open forum, go into what steps we are thinking of taking and may be involved in taking. I think to do so would be adverse to everyone's interests.

Chairman

  66. That is a perfectly understandable. I can also understand why Mr Donaldson is raising it.
  (Mr Holland) I can understand why but I honestly do believe it to go into the public domain at this stage would be unhelpful.

Mr Donaldson

  67. Can I ask you this, Mr Holland: given that it is a task and remit of the Parades Commission to be, I suppose, the primary body in Northern Ireland for helping to resolve the parades issues, can you reassure the community in Northern Ireland that the Parades Commission is doing something more than simply making determinations about the weekly applications that come in, that in fact there is now being put in place some kind of strategy to address this problem because there is a concern abroad in Northern Ireland that the dialogue that has taken place, and there has been dialogue, has been driven by the Government and indeed by the Prime Minister and his office and that the role of the Parades Commission in resolving Drumcree in terms of looking at a strategic approach rather than deal with determinations as they come in, as you must of course do, has been minimal?
  (Mr Holland) I can assure you that the Commission is doing more than just determining the applications that come in on a weekly basis and that we have Drumcree very much on our minds. We are independent of the government totally and I would not seek to suggest that the activities that we are about are in any way involving the Government; they are not. The Drumcree situation is, as you know full well, one that has been looked at, picked up, unpicked and so on by a number of bodies in an endeavour to sort it out and to come to some solution. I am not optimistic that I am or the Commission is going to be any more successful than previous activities in that area. Nevertheless, we are trying to evolve a statutory duty that may well put a different gloss on it. That is really all I want to say. I am not optimistic about being successful this year although, on the other hand, I am not pessimistic. Frankly at this stage I am biding my time and crossing my fingers that the activities we have in mind might produce some sort of solution. It would be futile to suggest after ten weeks that I can produce a solution for Drumcree. In fact, it would be quite irresponsible of me to suggest that I could. I believe that it is vital that it is resolved for the well-being of everyone in this. It is a running sore if I may speak as an outsider in that context. It does no one any good, least of all those people who live in Portadown.

  Chairman: Given the fact that, as you will know, we are capable of taking evidence in private in a manner in which Mr Holland's words although known to us would not be on the record, it would be sensible if we paused at this juncture in terms of that particular line of inquiry. You still have a question, Dr Palmer.

Dr Palmer

  68. I have a general question which returns to one earlier in the inquiry. Quite close to the start, you responded to the Chairman on the question of whether you would like to see a change in the legislation allowing you to look beyond the individual cases in order to in some way develop package solutions. You said at that stage you reserve your position basically?
  (Mr Holland) Yes.

  Dr Palmer: From time to time in your very patient replies you have referred obliquely to that constraint. I wondered if you might consider taking advantage of the option which was mentioned by the Chairman at the start that you could contact us again in due course with any further thoughts you might have. I think we would all be interested before we completed our inquiry into this matter if you let us know whether you think that would be helpful.
  (Mr Holland) I find that very helpful because in fact, let me take a neutral expression, we will call the road Jones Road; there is no road called Jones Road.

Mr Donaldson

  69. You have not heard of someone called David Jones then?
  (Mr Holland) We will call it X Road. Let us say X Road is a very contentious area, changing demographic processes have been continuous and there is a high tension which is responsive to every political nuance in the Province. This is what I mean by political evidence sometimes. When you look at disorder, the political climate affects the question of whether disorder is likely or not likely, in my view. Let's take X Road. It may be that the solution for X Road parade would in fact be better resolved over a five-year period if we could say on particular days in a particular year, yes, there will be a parade, and on particular days in other years there will not be a parade. There will be a five-year deal, if I can put it like that. That may not be particularly attractive to either party but it may be better than the continuous poison of a particular conflict going on and on and on to the community relations in that particular area which we do have great concern about. That is an illustration of what I had in mind.

  Dr Palmer: Thank you.

  Chairman: Mr Robinson, I think you have a question which might require a written response thereafter.

Mr Robinson

  70. Mr Holland, you are aware, and it has been read out by Mr Donaldson, that the remit is for the Committee to examine the operation of the Parades Commission since its inception. I recognise that leaves you in some difficulty because this question concerns a period of time when you were not in your present post and you may not therefore have the answer to hand but there should be sufficient records for you to be able to provide the Committee with an answer. In the submission we have received from the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland, they allege that on 25 April 1997 the Parades Commission had written to Grand Lodge seeking a nomination from the Institution to provide expert advice on a Code of Conduct, and that on 2 June the Grand Lodge confirmed that they were willing to nominate two representatives to meet with the Parades Commission on this specific issue. The Orange Institution then indicated that the Code of Conduct was announced to be brought out in draft form and it was almost ready for publication according to the information the Institution received. So they wrote to the Parades Commission on 13 October expressing surprise that it could be ready for publication as they had not been invited to any meeting in spite of the fact that they had confirmed that they were willing to meet with the Commission. In a letter of 15 October—

  Chairman: I should reassure Mr Holland that the whole of this transcript will subsequently be available.

  Mr Robinson: On 15 October the Parades Commission replied indicating that the two representatives would be consulted after the draft publication was released. That never happened either. It is just in the light of the fact you have been bemoaning the fact that one of the institutions, namely the Grand Lodge, has not been co-operating with the Commission, that it may be interesting for you to know something of the history between the Parades Commission and the Grand Lodge.
  (Mr Holland) I find that question very interesting actually. I was concerned because I had written since I took office to the Orange Order suggesting I should have some engagement with them and I have not had a reply. That may explain why if there has been this hiccough or many hiccoughs in the past. Obviously I cannot answer the question as to what happened at the time.

  71. You will write to the Select Committee after you have investigated it, will you?
  (Mr Holland) I will do, of course.

Chairman

  72. Mr Holland, there is one last question it would be helpful to know the answer to, if there is nobody else in the Committee who has any final question they want to ask. You quite properly alluded to the opportunity for judicial review and indeed in the course of the evidence there has been reference to at least one judicial review having occurred, more than one. Can you tell us how many applications for judicial review there have been against the Commission in the course of the Commission's life?
  (Mr Holland) In the course of my chairmanship there have been two which have been unsuccessful. I think in the previous one there were about six or seven applications but I can let you have the specific answer.

  73. That would be grand.
  (Mr Holland) I do not know the precise figure.

  74. I think I speak on behalf of all the Committee, whatever their views on the legislation—and it comes as no surprise to you in a multi-party committee that there may be varying views about the legislation which gives rise to the Commission—but I think I would be speaking on behalf of the whole Committee, not least after the manner in which you have given evidence to us, that the whole Committee wishes you extremely well in the task that you have and we are very appreciative to you for having come here and indeed for the manner in which you have given evidence to us. To ask a question I do periodically ask to witnesses in the final conclusion of these meetings, is there any question you were surprised we had not asked you?
  (Mr Holland) Surprised you did not ask me? No, I am bound to say I found it much more of an easier process than I encountered with the Lord Burns Committee on Financial Services and Marketing Bill which was difficult both technically and in every other way.

Mr Robinson

  75. You can be recalled.
  (Mr Holland) The only thing that threw me was Mr Pound's remark about somebody whose name sounded faintly Norwegian. I have no knowledge or interest in sport, I do apologise.

  Mr Pound: It is nothing to do with sport; it is Wimbledon Football Club! At that point it was 395 games and 395 draws, not a bad record.

  Chairman: I should say that a lack of interest in sport is in no sense a disqualification for your office and sometimes we have equal difficulty understanding Mr Pound!

  Mr Pound: Thank you, I think.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.


 
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