Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 76 - 79)




  76. We are very grateful to you for coming to give evidence to us. We are particularly grateful, because this is the first time we have had an opportunity of taking evidence in this room, which is rather more modern and more elegant, and possibly more efficient, than the rooms in which we have met historically; so we are grateful to you for that opportunity. The ground rules, which we operate and which will be familiar from any previous transcript of ours which you have seen, are, first, that we will try to make our questions follow a logical order, but that means that we may move around the horseshoe to different people in order to ask those questions. Secondly, that you should feel absolutely free, either during this session, this oral session, or later, in writing, to gloss any answer you have given, if you actually want to change the nature of what you have said, upon reflection. And that, of course, also provides you with an opportunity if there is an answer which you cannot give, you are just not able to give, in oral session, you can follow up afterwards in writing and you do not actually have to say it for the record today. By contradistinction, if there is a question which occurs to us that we should, in fact, have asked you but failed to, which we appreciate when we have read the full transcript, we reserve the right to put a supplementary question to you in writing thereafter. Before I ask you, in addition to welcoming you, if there is anything else you would like to say, beyond the memorandum which we have already received, let me say that when we set up this inquiry, and I say this for the record, my colleagues Mr Beggs and Mr Hunter both declared non-pecuniary interests as members of the Orange Order, and I say that so that it is on the record, the record which goes out with this transcript, that those interests were declared. Now is there anything you would like to say to us before we get down to asking you questions?

  (Mr Saulters) Chairman, members of the Committee, first of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity of meeting with you all, and I also welcome the opportunity briefly to expand on some of the points in our written submission. At the outset, I would wish to emphasise the importance of parades to the Orange Order, and, indeed, the wider Protestant community. Parades have for centuries provided a medium for our community to publicly express its faith and culture; other peoples use different mediums to do the same thing. The important point must be that all legitimate expressions of faith and culture should be respected, and no-one should take the view that a particular expression is less valuable than the other. Regrettably, given the relevant importance of parades to the communities of Northern Ireland, this is exactly the implication of the establishment and outworking of the Parades Commission. Since our written submission, we have, of course, witnessed an incredible situation, where the Parades Commission released the names and addresses of band secretaries to Sinn Fein IRA; this was an amazing breach of security, particularly when one considers that militant Republicans are still engaged in terrorist activity, and no decommissioning has taken place. The record of the Parades Commission clearly shows that it has been inconsistent in its determinations and it has issued contradictory statements, has displayed an absence of understanding of the situation on the ground and, most seriously, has bowed to a threat of violence. Inevitably, the number of so-called contentious parades has grown as the Parades Commission, by its very existence, has endorsed the view that expressions of our faith and culture, through the medium of parades, are somehow illegitimate. Community relations have deteriorated dramatically, and thus we have a situation where, in areas like Portadown, relations within the community are at a lower ebb now than during the worst years of the Troubles. The Parades Commission has fallen into the trap of accepting and promoting the concept of ghettos within Northern Ireland. We do not believe that the roads and public places of our country are owned by Loyalists or Nationalists, nor should they be, yet the Parades Commission has allowed this to develop and given weight to those who desire apartheid and who are not prepared to tolerate, as we do, the manifestation of another faith or culture. If this were an academic situation, I do not think that the headmaster's report would even carry an indictment "Must do better". It has now reached the point where the Parades Commission has become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We take the view that the Parades Commission has failed, and it is imperative that preferably it is abolished, or at the very least made accountable for its specific decisions. Chairman and Members, today I have with me Mr Denis Watson, the Grand Secretary, Mr William Bingham, County Armagh Grand Chaplain, and Mr George Patton, the Executive Officer of the Orange Institution in Ireland, and all four of us are here to answer questions that may be asked of us. Mr Watson and Mr Bingham have attended many meetings in support of the Portadown District, which, of course, is better known to you as the Drumcree situation. I myself have been more involved with the City of Belfast parades, and Mr Patton, from his post, is generally involved with all correspondence and parades negotiations, etc. Since our submission to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, a number of determinations have been made by the Parades Commission, and their second Annual Report has been published, that is this one, 1999-2000, with the Chairman's Foreword having been signed by Mr J Anthony Holland. It is interesting to note that the material within this report is all written around Loyal Orders, particularly the Loyal Orange Institution, and there are 14 photographs contained therein, one of Mr Holland himself, one of three of a Nationalist pipe band being confronted by a protester in Kilkeel, which has been particularly discussed here in a previous meeting, one of a reflection in a mirror of a Loyalist band and 11 of Orangemen or Orangewomen on parade. This report would verify for us that this Parades Commission has been put in place to deal with the Orange parades specifically; this was our fear when we first heard it suggested.

  77. Thank you very much indeed for that expansion of your original submission. Let me ask a couple of ground-clearing questions, to start off with. How many Lodges and how many members fall under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland? Then I have got another question thereafter.
  (Mr Saulters) We have round about 1,350 Lodges; now we do not centralise the figures, but we are in the region of around 60,000 to 70,000 membership.

  78. Thank you very much indeed. What is the relationship, if any, between the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland and other Loyal Orders?
  (Mr Saulters) We would be more in connection with the Black Institution; within the Black Institution, you have to be first of all an Orangeman, so that is the only connection; there are two different units, with different officers in charge. The Apprentice Boys is completely out on its own.

  79. And, therefore, those are quite in addition to the 60,000 to 70,000 which you quoted?
  (Mr Saulters) The 60,000 to 70,000, the Black Institution would be within that number; well they would not have as many in the Black Institution, but they are the same members serving.

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