Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum submitted by the General Committee of the Apprentice Boys of Derry

  The attached legal note has been at the foundation of our on-going concern relating to the Parades Commission. Specifically we have been deeply troubled at the fact that while we have encouraged members to engage with the Parades Commission, the experience of the encounter has been one of an unfair and unjust summary hearing. In particular we are concerned that the reluctance of the Parades Commission to convey the content or nature of what has been purported to be evidence that would be considered detrimental to the fundamental freedoms of our members in the peaceful and lawful expression of their culture.

  The Parades Commission and the Northern Ireland Office has led a review of the parades rules' of procedure with respect to the Commission, each within the space of a few months of the other. Neither has resulted in this fundamental point in law being addressed, this injustice, which should have been addressed with or without the Human Rights Act. Nor has any indication been shown that it might be at any time in the near future. We therefore have forwarded this legal note for the attention of the Select Committee in the expectation that it might be given the due attention that it demands.

  The Parades Commission has used Rule 3.3 to shroud the workings of the Commission in a veil of secrecy. This must end. It seems incredible to the Apprentice Boys of Derry that our members may sometimes read what is said behind closed doors in the local newspapers and media, with selected sound-bites released by politicians for the purposes of appropriate political posturing. Yet the so-called evidence presented to the Parades Commission is not available for examination or reply by our members. Our membership is asked to defend its rights, without knowing what evidence is presented that is so fundamental that those rights should be denied. We cannot believe that such an unjust procedure was ever intended by Parliament.

  What has most shocked us is that the Chairman of the Parades Commission sought a stay in the implementation of the Human Rights Act with reference to the Parades Commission as proposed by the Secretary of State in February (stated in evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland 3 May 2000[6]).

  We wholeheartedly support our members' freedom to parade in their local areas, understanding their rights and responsibilities under law. It is equally important that the Parades Commission, should act justly and fairly. Most importantly of all, where what amounts to evidence is presented to the Parades Commission, our members should be made aware of that evidence and be able to challenge it openly.

  Secrecy breeds mistrust. In a society where we have been promised human rights, inclusion, and open, transparent, and accountable government, the current rules and practice of the Parades Commission are clearly unlawful and incompatible with this aspiration. We would be delighted to have the opportunity to present our views on this and on our submissions, at your convenience.

6   Q32. Back

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