Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. But they fall within the composite figure which you gave?
  (Mr Saulters) Yes, that is right.

  81. A different question, but which derives obviously from evidence which we have already taken. What steps have been taken to seek to develop a relationship with the Parades Commission?
  (Mr Saulters) On three different occasions it has been put to our Grand Lodge, and the majority, a very large majority, do not want any connection with the Parades Commission at all.

  82. So the letter which the new Chairman of the Parades Commission, Mr Holland, whose photograph you mentioned a moment or two ago, which, as I understand it, sought to develop a working relationship with you, has that letter been responded to, even if in the negative?
  (Mr Saulters) No. That letter came direct from Mr Holland to myself, and I thought it was an attempt to put me at odds with the membership of the Orange Institution. Mr Holland would have known our position with the Parades Commission, and to correspond directly with myself, in a private capacity, I did not reply to it because I am not going to break the rules that my membership has set, which brings in me as well, under the same rules.
  (Mr Bingham) I think, Mr Chairman, it would have been the advice of those close to the Grand Master that perhaps it would have compromised his position within the Institution at that stage.

  83. I was not, in a sense, seeking to understand the process, I was seeking to verify whether there had actually been a reply to the letter, and I now know that there was not.
  (Mr Saulters) There was not, that is right.

Mr Beggs

  84. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Is there, in reality, a generic problem over parades, or are the problems confined to just a few locations? We understand that, in 1998-99, of the total 2,012 Loyalist parades notified to the Commission, route restrictions were placed on only 119, that is about 5 per cent, and, in all, just 295 were considered possibly contentious, and only just over half of these were, in the end, subjected to route restrictions.
  (Mr Saulters) Well, 295 is a contentious figure at the moment; but, of course, the Sinn Fein can up that whenever they wish, they can make any parade contentious if they wish.
  (Mr Watson) I think it should be said, Mr Chairman, that it has been a well-orchestrated campaign to destroy the cultural expression and civil rights of our membership, and Mr Gerry Adams is on record at a Republican conference in County Meath, in the Irish Republic, in 1997, and I quote: "Ask any activist in the North did Drumcree happen by accident, and they will tell you `no' . . . three years of work on the Lower Ormeau Road, Portadown and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and Bellaghy and up in Derry. Three years work went into creating that situation, and fair play to those people who put the work in." That is from the Leader of Sinn Fein IRA.

  85. Thank you. The Institution claims that the Commission is incapable of abiding by its own procedural rules. Could you give us some examples, and were these challenged in the courts, and if not why not?
  (Mr Patton) I think the most obvious example, Chairman and Members, is the determination on Portadown, when the Prime Minister asked the Parades Commission to delay their determination and not make the required timetable and they did that, breaking all the procedural rules that they had set up. It was not challenged in the courts. I think that, truth be, we have been waiting until 2 October, when human rights legislation would apply to Northern Ireland and make it much, much easier for us to pursue any legal challenge through the court system there, without going to Europe.
  (Mr Bingham) I think to add to the fact of our inability at times to challenge the courts, I live in the village of Pomeroy, which is 90 per cent of the Nationalist persuasion, 10 per cent Protestant, I am the Presbyterian Minister there, and most of my congregation will be members of the Orange Order. And whenever there is a ban put on our parades there, it takes a very brave man, living in such a minority, to stand up and say "We want to make an appeal" and go to court over this, because he is immediately putting his head above the parapet and can come under immense pressure from Sinn Fein IRA, him and his whole family; and it has happened to some of our folk in the past. So the court system, although it is there, is not always very easy for local Lodges to deal with it, because of the come-back they have in the areas that some of them are in.
  (Mr Patton) The other aspect, of course, following on from that, is that only individuals can take cases; Lodges, so the Grand Lodge of Ireland, cannot. And, for some strange reason, when people can represent residents' groups and receive legal aid, when it comes to a member of the Orange Order it is claimed that they are operating on behalf of the Orange Order and legal aid is refused; so it is a much more expensive operation for any of our people. And I think that is something that has to be challenged, in due course, in another place.


  86. I am not seeking it at this particular juncture, but could you provide us with some written evidence of those cases, in the aftermath of this examination?
  (Mr Patton) Yes.

Mr Beggs

  87. Can we take it then that there have been no challenges of procedural irregularities, to date, but there could be in the future?
  (Mr Saulters) Actually, we did take a case, just in October there, 23 October, for Dunloy in County Antrim, and it was put out of court, and we took it to the High Court and we are still awaiting judgment on the case from the Lord Chief Justice.
  (Mr Bingham) But that was against a decision of the Parades Commission, rather than against the procedures that they had taken.

  88. Just to press a wee bit further, Chairman, has the Parades Commission helped resolve the situation in any way in Northern Ireland, in your opinion?
  (Mr Watson) Mr Chairman and Members, I would have to say, the Parades Commission, from its inception, has added to the problem greatly, and I long for the day when the Parades Commission is abolished and when we can get a resolution to the problem, and that is something we have sought from day one. But it is very difficult, when you go into situations, to try to resolve situations, particularly in the Drumcree/Garvaghy Road problem, when, since 1995/1996, we have gone inconsistently into various proximity talks, processes, and those are all ignored by people at a high level, both at Government, who are quite well aware of what has been undertaken since then, the RUC Chief Constable, the Archbishop of Armagh, Lord Eames, and other people, all know the work that has been undertaken by the Orange Institution. And every time we go into a situation to try to resolve that problem, and I do not need to remind the Members here present of the summer we have come through this year, which has been just absolutely disgraceful, and I think both the Grand Master, Executive Officer and myself have made the position of the Grand Lodge abundantly plain this year, in relation to where the Grand Lodge stands in relation to any protest action; but, I would have to say, the Parades Commission have added greatly to the problem. And also, what they are now doing, they are sending out their Authorised Officers to talk to people to try to get them to speak to members of the Institution, at various levels, and they also have a very difficult situation where the Authorised Officers are actually going to residents' groups and actually inviting applications from those residents' groups and objections, and I think that that is a very serious situation for Authorised Officers of the Parades Commission to find themselves in.
  (Mr Bingham) I think, Mr Chairman, if I may just add to that, one of our local papers, the Newsletter, which would be, broadly speaking, a pro-Agreement, Unionist paper, last week, in its editorial, commenting on the Parades Commission's decision not to allow the Apprentice Boys to walk the Ormeau Road, having had the Apprentice Boys engaged both with the Parades Commission and with the residents' group, in its final paragraph of its editorial, said this: "This newspaper has always believed that the legislation which spawned the Commission was tantamount to an objector's charter; we have yet to see any good reason to revise our opinion." And one of the strong feelings within the community that I come from is that, when you read through the determinations of the Parades Commission, it seems that where there is any kind of threat of violence from those who are opposed to our parades then we simply just do not get the parade. So they really are inviting people, as we would say, almost to bring the force of violence into play here, and that you reward the people who can bring the threat of violence, and punish the people who would not use violence.
  (Mr Patton) I think, also, Chairman, the Parades Commission's own statistics would add to this. Whilst it is very obvious that there was an orchestrated campaign hatched in the Maze Prison, developed by Republican activists, as Mr Adams' words confirm, the very fact that, since the inception of the Parades Commission, there are now, what, something like 295 possibly contentious routes, I think I got the figure there from someone.


  89. I think it was in Mr Beggs's question.
  (Mr Patton) Yes; there certainly were not 295 contentious routes before the Parades Commission came into operation.

Mr Hunter

  90. The Institution considers that the power of the Commission to issue determinations undermines its capacity to mediate disputes. Can you explain and expand that position?
  (Mr Bingham) Perhaps, Mr Hunter, if I could just briefly say to you what I believe lies at the heart of an Orangeman's thinking, at this stage, on that question. I do not know if any of you know what an Orangeman is, or what he believes, but yesterday evening I took my eight-year-old son to join the Junior Orange Order; he went down to a little hall in Pomeroy and he had a collarette that I had when I was his age, that was given to me by my grandfather, when he was in the Juniors. We arrived in the hall, my son was brought in, it opened in prayer, there was a bible study and then there were some games and football afterwards; the kids were taught a little bit about the history of the Reformation, a little bit about some of the key factors in that Reformation, and they went home. To many within the Orange Order, that is what it is about; it is religious, it is based on the Reformation, and there is a social dimension to it as well. And, therefore, we feel that anybody, whether it is the Parades Commission or a residents' group, that is challenging what we see as our liberty and right to express that social culture and religious faith that we have is an infringement of our civil liberties. So whenever a Parades Commission has to make an arbitrary decision, which is either "Yes, you have your parade," or "No, you don't have your parade," because of the nature of Orangeism, we very much rebel against anyone telling us that we should not freely express our faith, we feel that is an inalienable right to us; so, therefore, we feel that anybody, any group, that is linked to that arbitration we can have no confidence in. Now the Authorised Officers are not exactly separate from the Parades Commission, they are really chosen, I know, by the Mediation Network, but they work alongside the Parades Commission, and our feeling has been that neither have been able to do their work effectively, because, at the end of the day, the Parades Commission can decide whether or not a parade takes place. And if an Orangeman co-operates with an Authorised Officer and tries to bring about a resolution to the problem, and then the ban is slapped on them, they cannot march the roads, then they lose confidence with the Authorised Officer as well, and the whole thing loses credibility.

  91. The Commission looks at each parade separately, as a one-off, isolated event; does the Institution agree with that approach, or is there an argument for some sort of linkage between different parades, linkage either geographical, time, or in degree of contention?
  (Mr Patton) I think, Mr Hunter, that we believe that all parades are equal, insofar as it is an expression of our faith or an expression of our culture, and the time, the place, is perhaps irrelevant to that, and that it is about whether or not people have the right to express their faith and their culture in a peaceful, legitimate manner, and we feel that that is what the Parades Commission fail to take account of. It is interesting that they certainly would appear to look at the various parades as specific issues, and that, I think, has led to some tremendous contradictions in their determinations. I am not sure, beyond that, that we would see them as being linked geographically, or in time, or things like that, but what we would say is that an expression of your faith is as important in Portadown as it is in Pomeroy, as it is in Belfast.

Mr Pound

  92. I was actually very interested in Mr Bingham's comments, earlier on, and I wanted to ask a question, which may strike you as somewhat naïve but perhaps resonates with people on this side of the water. On your website, you refer, quite rightly, to a number of aspects of Orangeism, you say how keen you are on social activities, how keen you are on sports and you are extremely keen on quizzes, and also it contains a line that "Orangeism is not about the Twelfth of July", I presume that is not derogatory, the Twelfth of July, but it is not solely about the Twelfth of July, it is about theology, it is about history, it is about tradition, it is about principle, it is about morality, so it is other issues. And yet the fact remains that, however defensible those positions are, some parades are controversial, some parades will result in damage to individuals, in damage to property, that is a fact of life. Now, leaving aside the issue of there being a veto on parades for a moment, which is following from your point, what would you suggest that the civil authorities do in a case where demonstrably a parade is going to lead to civil disorder, and simply to leave it to the RUC to clear up the mess would almost be abrogating responsibility? What would your answer be to that?
  (Mr Bingham) Can I maybe answer that in two parts. First of all, why should any of our parades be controversial, in the sense that we see nothing in our Institution, in our founding principles, that anybody should be offended by. If they do not like the fact that we are a Protestant organisation, because people do not like Protestants, we are asking for some toleration of our faith; and, I think, to be fair, for example, to the community in which I live, the small part of the village that I live in, Pomeroy, is Protestant. Now you have to understand that in my congregation we have borne the brunt of IRA violence, and there are many RUC men and UDR men buried in Pomeroy graveyard; but occasionally Sinn Fein IRA have a parade through the village of Pomeroy, they bring in their bands, they have guys dressed up in paramilitary uniforms, they carry replica guns; they walk past my house, they walk past the church, they walk right alongside the graves, past our war memorial, right down to the police station, then back up again. Now I could object to that, I could say, "This is grossly offensive to the memory of the folk that are lying there," and I could go out and organise a residents' group of Protestants to block that parade; but we do not, because one of the founding principles of Orangeism is civil and religious liberties for everyone. If you do not like it then you stay indoors while it goes past, you ignore it, you get on with your life. Because when people say to me "Your parades are controversial, therefore you should not walk the Garvaghy Road," or "You should not walk the streets of Pomeroy," I say, "But we should; we are there, we can't be ignored, we're part of Northern Ireland, we're part of a community that is diverse in culture and in faith, let's not start segregation." But I say to my people "Let's show toleration, and there are things that we may have to put up with;" and that is what we do, and that happens in Pomeroy. If you ask me what does it come down to then, should the police force a parade through, should they make sure that in all circumstances a parade goes down, I feel that they should, I feel it is a basic civil liberty. I think there are responsibilities that we have when we parade, and I think we have got to try to show that we are concerned to take on board some of the criticism that is levelled at us by other members of the community, but, having taken those on board, and having been seen to do that, a parade should not be banned, and the necessary levers should be brought in to police a parade. And certainly at Drumcree there has been more money spent and much more manpower put in to stopping a parade going than ever, ever was needed to put a parade down the road.

  93. Sorry; just to come back. Presumably, the demonstration and the indefensible activities that you have just described would not be licensed by the Parades Commission, there is no way the Parades Commission would authorise that?
  (Mr Bingham) They would not object to that if there was no objection from the local community.

  94. Replica weapons, balaclavas?
  (Mr Bingham) It has happened in the past.

  95. Okay; but on your point about the line between tradition and your theological base, there is in Tipperary a family called McDonaugh, who are part of a huge travelling clan, the McDonaughs, the Wards, the Stokes, and the rest of them, who have been coming to my part of West London for 300 years and "pony and trap" racing down the roads, causing mayhem and loss of life, in some cases; that is their tradition. We banned them; if they do it now they get arrested and they get put in prison, not out of disrespect for their tradition but out of recognition for the fact that what you may have been able to do 150 years ago you cannot do in the 21st century. Do you see any sort of a parallel there?
  (Mr Bingham) No, because I do not see any moves to prevent the Remembrance Day Parade at Whitehall on 11 November; and most of our parades are to remember, on the first Sunday in July, those who died at the Battle of the Somme, and the others are mainly church service parades.

  96. But your marches precede by several hundred years the Battle of the Somme?
  (Mr Bingham) Yes, but the first of July became the focal point of commemoration, because of the 36th Ulster Division, and that is when most of the services now take place.

  97. But it is not very often that a politician can say he is educated in here, I am grateful, I had not been aware of that information. The last question, Chairman, I am sorry I have been a bit circuitous. In your memorandum, you actually talk about flawed determinations by the Commission, and you give a number of reasons why you say that they are flawed. Have you actually sought judicial review, or have the relevant parties done so, in any of the cases that have been cited, and, in which case, what was the outcome, what view did the courts take?
  (Mr Patton) Prior to 2 October, we have never sought recompense through the courts at all, we have been waiting until the Human Rights legislation came in. I have to say, in addition to that, that I am rather concerned that such decisions would be legally based, rather than based on common sense and mutual toleration and respect for each other. I would be very, very saddened when the time comes that every aspect of life in Northern Ireland relative to one's faith or one's culture has to be decided judicially.

  98. We could end up like America?
  (Mr Patton) Yes.

  Mr Thompson: First of all, Mr Chairman, can I declare a non-pecuniary interest in this, as a member of an Orange Institution, and as this is my first visit to this particular Committee when dealing with this particular subject.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

Mr Thompson

  99. So, good afternoon, gentlemen. What legal advice, if any, has the Institution sought on the implications of the Human Rights Act for the operations of the Commission? In reality, has the position changed at all, given that it was always possible for cases to be taken to Strasbourg?
  (Mr Watson) I think, as the Grand Master has already said, we have taken a case recently, since 2 October, and we are currently awaiting the outcome and awaiting the judgment of that case. The reason we would not have taken the case possibly to Strasbourg in the past would be the length of time it would take to have a case processed through Strasbourg, and also it would be heard, I presume, by Bonn, the foreign courts, in that sense, whereas now we can do it at the local level, and we are looking at cases, and will actively seek to do those, as and when necessary.

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