Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 136)



  120. So should the police, in that sense, have the power to modify routes?
  (Mr Watson) I think the RUC, in the past, going back to the Portadown situation, have already amended a route, and that is what a lot of people seem to misunderstand in relation to the Portadown problem, that that was agreed with the then Member of Parliament, the representatives of the Orange Institution, the residents on the road, and also the then Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. But, unfortunately, there are some people who are not prepared to allow that to happen, in the current climate.

  121. Just following that to its ultimate conclusion, if the police were playing a part in modification of routes and replaced the Parades Commission, should there simply be a power to ban parades, and if so should that remain with the Secretary of State?
  (Mr Watson) I think, ultimately, the Secretary of State, yes, is the senior person in Northern Ireland, and the authority should remain with the Secretary of State, after taking advice from the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and there have been bans placed on parades in the past. There is something rather strange when you can drive up and down a road, in my own constituency, which I represent at the Assembly, of Upper Bann, I can drive up and down the Garvaghy Road 24 hours a day, up and down that road, I am well known, not stopped, hindered from going up and down that road; but once I put my Orange collarette on there seems to be a major problem, but I have great difficulty understanding what that problem is.


  122. I do have a couple of questions I want to ask, in conclusion, arising out of some of the evidence which has already been given, and I shall make clear to my colleagues on the Committee that if they want to come in with further supplementaries, arising out of my questions, they should feel free to do so. The first question relates to Mr Watson's comment, quite early in the proceedings, that the Parades Commission had made things much worse, I do not think I am misquoting you, in saying that. What I want to get clear is the issue of cause and effect. There has been reference to the fact that Sinn Fein have been engaged in a three-year programme, and a number of locations were identified where that programme had been at work, and, of course, I acknowledge that, not necessarily absolutely concurrently but over the same sort of period, the Parades Commission has been in existence. Now a deterioration in the situation, and I am not questioning your observation that there has been a deterioration, could have been due to the creation of the Parades Commission, and, indeed, the activities of the Parades Commission, and it could conceivably have happened anyway; in other words, given the programme that you were describing Sinn Fein were engaged in, and the political circumstances in the Province anyway, we could have seen the number of contentious parades rising towards 295, if not necessarily 295 itself, even if the Parades Commission had not existed. First, I want to verify whether that is, actually, in your view, a reasonable hypothesis?
  (Mr Patton) Yes, I think we would have to accept that it could have happened. Our view would be that the Parades Commission has exacerbated the situation; one would not know how bad it would be if they had not been there. I think the power of veto that has been given to those who threaten violence, by the Parades Commission, is the single biggest factor in the rise of the difficulties that we have had.

  123. Immediately after Mr Watson had said what I described, I did pick up Mr Bingham's observation that the actions of those on behalf of the Parades Commission, who, in his view, appeared to be issuing invitations to object, could have been contributory, in terms of raising the temperature; because Mr Watson used quite strong language about how far the situation had got worse because of the Parades Commission. If my hypothesis has any validity, how much of the deterioration would you say was due to the Parades Commission and how much to other surrounding ambient circumstances?
  (Mr Watson) Can I just put on record that one of your Members referred to the incident where names were released to a Sinn Fein activist in Maghera, this is not the first time this has happened, by the Parades Commission. We have evidence in Portadown that it happened in 1998/1999, when information on the statutory 11 bar one, that goes in through the Royal Ulster Constabulary, information of that form was given to IRA activists in Portadown, and, as a result, members of the Institution in Portadown were put under threat and had to move from the house because they were identified. We have taken that up with Mr Ingram, and are currently taking that up with him again.[1]

  (Mr Saulters) Can I give an example of the parade recently in June, it is a parade actually that has been going on since 1958, and since 1970 it has rerouted four times on the Springfield Road; now it was the police that were dealing with it at that time, and we talked with the police and rerouted. Five years ago, the Nationalist people complained again about this annual parade, and they demanded a wall built between the two communities, and this was 25, 30 feet high; that worked for three years. Two years ago, Sinn Fein, Gerry Kelly, who is now an MLA in Stormont, started bringing his cohorts in miles away from the Springfield Road, a week before the parade was due, overturning police Land Rovers, and the like. This year, the Parades Commission decided, in their wisdom, that the parade would come to Springfield Road and the bands would not be allowed to play music from an entry to Springfield Road to a point at Springfield School, a matter of a hundred yards. There are eight houses at the first part of that road, the rest of the road is on a corner of the road, over a river, waste ground either side, and that was the determination, the band was not allowed to play music in that part. So we wondered how we would keep the band quiet, we knew it was a move for next year, that perhaps if a band made a squeak that is an excuse to have it banned altogether next year. So, in their wisdom, they took the bands on a three-mile detour, by buses, and what have you, to take them off that section of the road altogether; and that has not pleased the people on that road either. Now, if you can picture the road with nothing there, there are no houses, there are no people, and that was the determination. That is the silliness of the thing, from the bands and from the Parades Commission.

  (Mr Bingham) We also wonder, Mr Chairman, at times, does the Parades Commission itself take sufficient cognisance of what they hear from their Authorised Officers and the local police. There is a feeling within the Institution that perhaps they should take more cognisance of what they are hearing at ground level.

  124. That takes me on to my second question, and I wanted to ask you if you would expand a little on the issue of mediation, the second responsibility, duty, of the Parades Commission which was put to you when three issues were put together. I picked up some vibrations about your reactions to mediation, but it would be helpful if you had anything else you wanted to say in expansion on that?
  (Mr Bingham) I think that there should be a recognition that not every conflict situation can be resolved through mediation, and I think Mediation Network published a report in May or June of this year which suggested to the Parades Commission, for example, that in their opinion Drumcree would not be resolved, and could not be resolved, through a mediation process. So I think, whereas we would all like to see a consensus reached on many of these issues, at times it becomes impossible to do so, and I think we have to live in the real world and recognise that. Where you are most likely to reach a consensus is where you do not have political involvement from Sinn Fein, who are calling the shots and who try to make their own agenda out of it, and I quote maybe the example of Dromore, in County Tyrone, where the local Sinn Fein were sidelined by the local residents, and an agreement has been reached—I think it is in your constituency, Mr Thompson—which has held ever since.

  125. Can I infer, from that answer, that there are a fair number of places/cases where mediation actually works, in terms of producing equilibrium?
  (Mr Bingham) It would be a minority, a very small number that we could point to.

  126. Let me put it another way. In your view, were the Parades Commission making claims about the effectiveness of mediation which are not justified?
  (Mr Saulters) I would say, it was as my example of 1995. At that time, it was people from the Quaker persuasion were doing mediation, on behalf of the police.

  127. I can recall these particular people.
  (Mr Bingham) I can only speak for County Armagh, which is a border constituency, and which would tend to have perhaps more controversial areas, where none of ours have been resolved through mediation; none.
  (Mr Patton) The other thing, Mr Chairman, about mediation you have within the report from the Parades Commission, they set out terms of engagement; now, invariably, districts like Portadown have met those, but it has not been sufficient for the Parades Commission. We have the case of the Apprentice Boys, and I cannot speak for them, but looking from the outside in, where they have everything that has ever been asked of them and still nothing. And it looks to me as if the Parades Commission are quite arbitrary, in not only determining "You must do this," but they then talk about the quality of it, and things like this, and they give absolutely nothing at all in recognition of attempts made by very, very many people to try to organise and to mediate. And, again, in a situation, there is no incentive for those who are desirous to stop a parade to genuinely become involved in mediation, when they know they can hide behind a Parades Commission determination.

  128. I will in a moment ask my colleagues if there are any other questions which they want to ask, but, before I do that, first, and I have done this before with other witnesses, is there any question that you are surprised that we have not asked you; and, secondly, is there anything else you would like to say of a concluding nature?
  (Mr Watson) Could I just put on record, Mr Chairman, I think it is in our submission to you, but for the record again, it is interesting to note that on 25 April 1997 the Parades Commission wrote to Grand Lodge, seeking a nomination for the Institution, for us to provide expert advice on a Code of Conduct. We confirmed, on 2nd June that year, that we were willing to nominate two representatives to meet with the Parades Commission on this specific issue; sadly, that was never taken up by the Parades Commission. And then, of course, to our horror, we wrote to the Commission on 13 October that year, expressing surprise that they had proceeded without the involvement of a major player in Northern Ireland, in relation to parades.

  129. I may have misheard you. Did I not hear 1997 was the first sentence?
  (Mr Watson) Yes. It is interesting to note that on 25 April 1997 the Parades Commission—

  130. The 25 April 1997 was prior to the General Election?
  (Mr Watson) Yes, but the Parades Commission was in place on that day in its original form; subsequently, when the new Government went into power the Secretary of State then gave the Parades Commission the extra powers.

  131. I was inferring we are talking about continuity, in terms of the strategy for it?
  (Mr Watson) And, likewise, the other concern the Institution would have is that there does not seem to be any audit procedure in relation to the workings of the Parades Commission, and that does give us great concern.

  Chairman: Do any of my colleagues have anything they want to ask: Mr Grogan.

Mr Grogan

  132. Sorry to delay you, Chairman, but just one, quick question, because I am just trying to clarify the position as regards if the Parades Commission were abolished what you would see in its place, because I seem to detect a slight difference between Mr Watson, who seemed to indicate that he could see circumstances where the power to ban marches, or parades, should be retained by the Secretary of State and the police should have some powers regarding modifying routes, and Reverend Bingham, who seemed to imply that, in his view, the right to parade was one that could not be challenged by the police under any circumstances. And I just wonder, is there an overall position, which is it, is it that—
  (Mr Bingham) I think mine was in response to a different question. The question I was answering was did I believe that the police should force a parade down, and I said, yes, I do believe that they should do that.

  133. And that the police should not have powers to—
  (Mr Bingham) No, I did not comment on that, I just made the point that I thought if a parade was legitimate that it should be forced down.

  134. Can I ask you whether you agree with Mr Watson's view?
  (Mr Bingham) Absolutely, yes.

  135. That the Secretary of State should reserve powers and the police should be able to modify routes, if necessary?
  (Mr Bingham) It happens here, it happened with your fuel protesters.
  (Mr Watson) I know there have been occasions when, in consultation with the RUC, we have looked at the various options for parades throughout Northern Ireland, to come to an agreement for the benefit of all concerned in the community.
  (Mr Bingham) Can I just clarify something there. The only question I thought you might have asked me was did I have any applications with me to join the Orange Order, maybe you wanted one.

  Mr Pound: Half the Committee are already members.


  136. That is, if I may say so, a happy note on which to conclude the meeting.
  (Mr Bingham) If I could clarify an answer perhaps that I gave to Mr Pound with regard to an IRA Sinn Fein parade, that parade in the village was just pre-Parades Commission, they would not have made a decision on that parade at that time; although it did take place, it was pre-Parades Commission.

  Chairman: Let me reiterate my appreciation, when you arrived, at your coming to give evidence to us, we are very grateful to you for having done so. Now should you want to let us have any other information in writing afterwards, please do not hesitate; and I have indicated to the Clerk there is one question on which I would like to follow up in writing, but he will do that directly with you. Thank you.

1   Editorial Footnote: For a summary of correspondence between the Committee and Grand Lodge regarding Mr Watson's answer see Appendix 23, p 308. See also the Committee's Sixth Report, HC 521. Back

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