Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. How would you suggest parades should be regulated, if not the Parades Commission? Do you have any ideas on that?
  (Mr Simpson) No. As I have said previously, it is up to those who are given the law and order of the land. It is up to them to do it. But it must be done in the proper manner, with whatever group is set up to deal with the particular point.
  (Mr Hay) The Parades Commission was really borne out of the North Report, which was certainly very biased against Loyal Orders. I mean, the Apprentice Boys have always taken the attitude that we will meet the Parades Commission when it suits us, we will not go cap in hand, and we continually say to them, "As far as we are concerned, you should not be here." We see very clearly it should be a role for the RUC and for the legal forces to deal with parades. For example, they banned the 11 November parade in the Ormeau Road because of something that the Bogside residents said to them, because the Bogside residents met them and said, "We will threaten violence to the 2 December parade in Londonderry if, more or less, you do not ban their Ormeau parade." I mean, if you look at the Determination, the Determination says that, very clearly, "Because of the threat of violence from the Bogside Residents Group they have decided on this occasion to ban the Ormeau Road parade." And then they tell us on the other hand that they treat every parade individually and they treat every parade on its own merits. I mean, it is difficult to understand where they are coming from.

  181. But you did say that you meet the Parades Commission when it suits you. What success have you had? Have you had successes from those contacts with the Parades Commission that you can point to?
  (Mr Simpson) The success that we have had is to do with the Apprentice Boys themselves and the attitude that they have taken when the Parades Commission has made its determination. We have proved to the whole of Northern Ireland and to everyone else that the Apprentice Boys do keep within the law. We are law abiding people. As I said previously, I live on the west bank, on a small Protestant estate. If I allowed the Apprentice Boys to get out of hand on the parades, it would be an absolute failing to the people that I live with in the west bank immediately afterwards. So, although we may not agree with what the Parades Commission are doing, we will keep within the law. But the Parades Commission do not always come out for the sake of law and order. If the Bogside Residents Group or any other group threaten violence—they do not have to do it, it is just a threat—immediately the businesses in Londonderry suffer and I have gone on the media and said that I want to see the businesses being kept open and a good day for all.
  (Mr Hay) The very fact is that we as an organisation have said, "Right, we will keep within the law," no matter how difficult it is with the Parades Commission's determination, but, unfortunately, the Parades Commission has used that, because the residents group who threatens violence and in fact shows violence, they come down on the side of that group. That is what the problem is in Northern Ireland. It is very, very clear.

Mr Robinson

  182. I wonder if, before I ask the question I intend to ask, I can give you the opportunity to respond to a comment that was made earlier by previous witnesses. We were looking at the problem that arises with some of the parades, antisocial problems: urinating in the streets, drunkenness, etc. One of your parades was given as an example. I think I am right, Chairman—though I may not be—in saying that it was the Shutting of the Gates commemorative event (as opposed to the Relief—which might have been more suitable!). At any rate, do you think that was a fair comment? If it is a fair comment, what can you do about it?
  (Mr Simpson) Yes, it is a very fair comment, but can I tell you that previous to me becoming Governor of the Apprentice Boys—this is about 10 or 11 years ago—I actually reported to the General Committee about the behaviour of Apprentice Boys and bandsmen and followers, how they were using the Fountain Estate as toilets, urinating all over the place. I accepted that and I told them at that time that if they continued on the way they were doing that it would not be the Nationalists that would be putting them out of the west bank but it would be the Protestants in the Fountain that would turn round and say, "You're not welcome here any more." Now, having a large number of people coming into the city on that day—and we have on the parade as between bandsmen and Apprentice Boys anything up to 15,000 people—it is very hard to stop everyone, but we do provide toilets. We get the Derry City Council, who work hand in hand with us, to provide toilets in different parts of the area and I can assure you that, although it may not be wiped out completely, it has got to the stage now where people are saying it is an improvement. But anyone who is found urinating that belongs to our Association or the bands that are there, is severely dealt with. We have in the past put people out of our organisation because of this behaviour either one way or the other.
  (Mr Hay) To follow on—

  183. I am sorry, Mr Hay, maybe you could respond to the supplementary, which is: Have any instructions or guidelines been issued to clubs on this issue?
  (Mr Hay) We have done a number of things, but, the Governor is right, we were very conscious of the situation and what we have done is we would meet with police. We have said to the Chief Constable who we met a week ago: "Wherever the buses are leaving from across the Province, you search those buses. You go into those buses, if you find a can of beer on those buses, not only do you prosecute the person with the tin of beer but you return the whole bus." So we were saying to clubs very clearly, "If you bring a band with you and if that band brings drink onto the bus, not only is that bus returned but also the bus belonging to the club is returned." We have made that quite clear. We have been saying to the police that drink must be confiscated before it reaches the city. I think last year and the year previous we have now got a handle on this. There is more work to be done to it, but very clearly we worked hand in hand with the RUC, and, wherever buses are leaving from in the Province, they search those buses in the morning to make sure there is no drink coming into the city. Also we talked to licensed premises. We indicated to licensed premises when they should be opening. We have put a number of issues into place in the hope—in the hope—that we can keep drink out of the city. I think last year we were reasonably successful in doing that. In fact, the Parades Commission commented last year—because they had two people last year in the city looking at the parade—and they said, "Yes, drink last year was not a problem in the city at either of the parades."

  184. Chairman, so as not to try your patience, I will ask this supplementary on the same subject rather than the question that I was going to ask, because I think this an important issue. You might have some directional control over Apprentice Boys clubs and their members. However, those of us who have been involved in parades will know that the bands can cause difficulties in some cases as well. I assume that there is some responsibility placed upon the Club over the band. Is that how it is carried out?
  (Mr Simpson) Can I reply by saying that the General Secretary, who was unable to be here today because of business commitments, last year wrote out three individual letters of correspondence the week before the August parade, to branches and bandsmen that were coming to the city on parade, putting these points forward. But, although we have no jurisdiction over a band as such, the Branch that brings that band in has a jurisdiction over them, and, therefore, if the band steps out of line, the General Committee deals with the Branch Club concerned. And we have expelled bands from our parades in the City of Londonderry and we have expelled Branches and we have expelled individual members over the last five/six years. We have acted because I will not have anyone come to my city and use it as a toilet and go away again because I expect anybody who comes into my city, no matter where they are going or where they are from, to treat my town the same way as they would treat their own. We have very strict rules on that particular subject.

Mr Clarke

  185. Good morning, gentlemen. In March 1999 there were press reports of meetings and discussions between the Apprentice Boys and the Commission which at the time were designed to improve the working relationship between your two bodies. What became of those meetings?
  (Mr Simpson) I am sorry, the Parades Commission are you talking about?

  186. Yes. There were press reports in March 1999 that there had been meetings between the Apprentice Boys and the Commission.
  (Mr Simpson) Well, the same thing as happened to all the meetings that we had with the Parades Commission, when even the Alistair Graham was in charge. They were meaningful discussions, they were meetings that proved positive, but at the end of the day they did not always bring a satisfactory answer to the problems that we had.

  187. Would it be fair to say that the intent, which was to improve working relationships, was met?
  (Mr Simpson) Not entirely, no.
  (Mr Hay) I think the intent was very, very clear, to say most clearly to the Parades Commission what we have said on a number of occasions, that at the end of the day we can do so much on the ground, we can meet and talk to people who want to talk to us, we can convince people it is our right to celebrate our culture in the city, but also then we say to the Parades Commission, "It is very important that you come down on the side that is right, that you are not always taking a decision on the threat of violence." This is the point we were trying to get over to them, that they were continually taking their decision because of a threat of violence from people, whoever they come from. We were trying to say that to the Parades Commission. Unfortunately, I do not think that message has still got through to them.

  188. Just moving on and trying to deal with the consequences of that violence, earlier on you stated that it was for others to keep law and order—I think you said that it was a role for the RUC. I think you would accept that, unfortunate though it is, for whatever reason some parades are controversial and there is a real risk of damage to persons and/or property. In those circumstances, what should be done? Should the parade proceed, leaving the RUC and others to deal with the consequences, irrespective of what they would be?
  (Mr Simpson) We did say at the very beginning that you do not always have 100 per cent of the people behind you in agreement with the parade, but are the people who cause the violence allowed to dictate to the rest of the population of that city or town, wherever the parade is? Are the people of violence allowed to dictate whether or not democracy should go ahead? I believe they should not be. Those people are out solely to create violence -and it has been proved. Last year the young Nationalist thugs in the city did £5 million worth of damage to property and businesses; the year before they did £4 million worth of damage. It was in their own area, it was their own people, it was their own people they were putting out of work. Can I be held responsible for the damage that is done by thugs who are determined, no matter what happens, that your civil rights should be corroded?

  189. Is there an indication there then that there is trouble irrespective of whether or not the parade does or does not proceed? In those circumstances, even though the Parades Commission had made a determination, there was still violence.
  (Mr Simpson) The Parades Commission were told that if they allowed a parade to go ahead and a small minority disagreed with that, that there would be violence. That is why the business people of Londonderry, every time there is a threat of violence, close their shops. They do not have to carry out the threat, they just have to threaten, and that is enough to cause the city damage. But, I mean, as individuals and as a citizen of the city, I feel that we have the right, provided we keep within the law, to commemorate in whatever way we wish, and no-one, no matter if it be a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, should have the right to turn round and say, "You're not doing that," because that is where your civil rights and your civil liberties and all the rest come from.
  (Mr Hoey) If you read the papers, in and around the city of Londonderry, you will find—and I am sure Mr Hay can elaborate further on it if you would like—that there is a problem with violence, casual violence, on the streets in any case. Any Saturday afternoon there is a problem of juvenile and youth crime within the city and that has to be dealt with. You may be looking at it on a parade day because there is a justification or a better excuse or whatever the reason is, you cannot sort of say that this is just a problem on parade days; there is a wider social problem within the city and that has to be dealt with. That is not for the Apprentice Boys to deal with, but we have to live with the consequences of that issue not being dealt with in the longer term. On the issue of violence—and there is a copy of this determination in the pack that was circulated—in their efforts to deny the freedom of assembly under the Human Rights Convention to the small parade along the Lower Ormeau, the Parades Commission used Article 8, which is the freedom to a peaceful family life, and suggested that that must be protected. The people who were from that community coming out on the street, disturbing and bringing disorder to the street, bringing people from all over Belfast, as we saw before—because, of the people arrested and convicted at the previous violent encounter on the Lower Ormeau, very few of them came from the Lower Ormeau community themselves. But in doing all that, somehow freedom of assembly is denied because the people who are coming out are not at home to have their family life disturbed, are not at home to be the reason why this right over here is going to be denied. I mean, it raises a serious point about what is the use of the Human Rights Act. Is it there simply to cover up disorder and cover up things in other ways? Or is it there for the issue of freedom of assembly? I think you have to start looking at what are the issues at hand. We are not saying violence is not an issue, but it has to be taken within its own context and dealt with within its own context and you have to at some point stand up to violence. Yes, if there is a risk, you may have to take that risk, but the Apprentice Boys I believe are a responsible organisation and are cognisant of the risk and cognisant of the circumstances on the day. People also have to trust organisations to be responsible in their community and in society but not to protect us from our responsibilities the way that they are protecting others from their responsibilities—or their irresponsibilities.
  (Mr Simpson) Last Saturday in the city centre there was a bomb scare and it closed down businesses in the city centre. If it happens this Saturday, during the Apprentice Boys' parade, the Apprentice Boys will get the blame for it, but it is happening on a regular basis in the city.
  (Mr Hay) A controversial parade can be anywhere in Northern Ireland. If a Republican group decides to set themselves up besides that group is headed by a Republican, and was to indicate very clearly to the public that this parade is controversial, it will be controversial. That is the problem in Northern Ireland. It could be anywhere. It does not have to be Londonderry,

  190. I think my only point was that it as an organisation you would be happy to allow the RUC to deal with such problems if they arose.
  (Mr Simpson) Certainly.
  (Mr Hay) I think at the end of the day the RUC is the lawful authority. None of us has any choice but to allow the RUC to deal with them

Mr Beggs

  191. Good morning, gentlemen. May I first of all declare my membership of the Apprentice Boys Club whose members went on parade and whose accompanying band is on parade at all times with responsibility and has never caused any offence at any time. Having said that, gentlemen, do you consider that in principle the same body, namely the Parades Commission, can espouse both mediation and legally binding determinations? Do both functions have a role to play in reducing difficulties with the parades in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Hoey) I think there is a severe problem with having two roles such as that. I think the example on the Ormeau Road this year has been one where the Parades Commission was warned that, by setting up a further process on the Lower Ormeau, there was a severe threat to the process of dialogue that was going on between the Belfast Walker Club and the residents group. That had been, I think, 10/12 meetings over a period of about 10 months at that time. They were told, "Do it and you are going to create a risk, because you are going to have people walk away." And they went ahead and did it anyway. And it has created difficulties with dialogue, because it has created a circumstance whereby there is no need to sit down directly across a table now and talk to the Apprentice Boys because now there is another process, and that process has been delayed awaiting instructions, and it has not processed well because the actual terms of reference were delayed and the Parades Commission did not seem to know what it was doing in the first instance, and all sorts of hassles that were created. I think if you take the mediation role you are in there, you must be at the end of the day standing back and saying, "This at the end of the day has nothing to do with me, I am here to help both parties come to a discussion and come to some sort of accommodation at the end of the day." You cannot then put on another hat and turn round and say, "Well, basically, this is how it is and I am making a legal determination and saying that this side is then wrong and right." There does seem to be in the determinations a reluctance actually to objectively review exactly what has occurred in periods of discussion and dialogue. I think we have a problem with that, in that whereas the Commission up to February 2000 was prepared to evaluate and objectively set out its determination in a rational format, this current Parades Commission just has not. Whether that is because they wish to have a greater role in mediation, in which case that is conflicting with their notion of actually being a quasi-judicial body, it is hard to say. It is very hard to say with this Commission what it thinks, to be perfectly honest. We found the last decision we got on 9 November—and again that is in your pack—to be generally incomprehensible. We just do not understand it. The problem with the Commission is that we do not know where it is going. We do not know what role it has at the moment. Is it a quasi-judicial body? Is it a mediation body? Has it got a role in mediation or has it not? On the one hand it says it has, and wanted a greater role; on the other hand it would stand back and say, "Mediation Network is there, other people, Authorised Officers, to actually help facilitate that, and we have put it out to other people." So the Parades Commission will not themselves become involved in mediation and have other people doing it. It just lacks clarity, and I do not think this Commission is at all helping itself in actually saying what its role is because it seems to be prepared to go in and try and fix things that frankly may be in difficulties but that is not necessarily the time to interfere and say, "That is not working, we will go to another process ."

Mr Barnes

  192. It is quite clear that you have been dissatisfied with a number of decisions of the Parades Commission. How many decisions have you therefore challenged in the courts and what has been the success?
  (Mr Hoey) There has been no challenge in the court whatsoever. The reason for that is that taking a judicial review of the determination will end up, as we have seen with other organisations, with the courts largely saying, "You may not have got to your determination the right way. Think about having done it this way and go away and decide whether it was the right decision after all," and so the Commission goes away and says, "Yes, it was the right decision." I think, again, when you were talking to Mr Holland, those issues were very clear with regard to Kilkeel and also with regard to the Lower Ormeau issue at that time as well. So it is a matter of taking each as it comes in terms of determinations.

  193. Presumably you do not rule out entirely on any occasion the possibility of a legal challenge because your attitude seems to be that if you have a judicial review it is not likely to be a very fruitful avenue to pursue.
  (Mr Hoey) We would never rule out a legal challenge, but it has to be the right legal challenge and for the right reasons and at the right time, and therefore it is one of those options that would be under review and constantly under review but not something that we feel we have to jump at or feel that we have to use the courts as the only option. I think we also would say that it is about actually trying to find solutions amongst the parties concerned first, and recourse to the courts is really not a preferred option. It is almost like the very last option: When all else fails and when you are just so frustrated, there is not any other way to go, throw your hands up and go to court.

  194. Might it be a bit more likely to be used even as a last option because of the human rights legislation? Maybe you would like to elaborate a little on what you have said about Mr Holland and Article 6 because this is presumably the argument that determinations should be made through the public hearings.
  (Mr Hoey) If there is a Determination to be made—and that is not something that we would work for—the point, particularly in the Lower Ormeau, of going into dialogue was actually to find an accommodation, not to end up with a Determination or to tick boxes and end up with something that was in your favour. It was about actually going and trying to find a solution. If it comes round to a determination, the process of that is that there is an 11/1 which is put in 28 days in advance of the parade. It would seem that absolutely anybody can walk into the Parades Commission and have their say about a parade. What we have argued—and again you have a copy of the legal note on this particular point—is that if there is evidence presented to the Parades Commission that would make the Parades Commission consider issuing a negative determination, then it is only right that people involved in that, our club members going to the Parades Commission, should have a fair hearing and be told of exactly the reasons why on the evidence on which a negative determination might be made that would basically overrule their freedom of assembly. That does not happen at the present time. The Parades Commission will come in in the most recent case there were hearings beforehand, they were told in general terms but not specifically any reason why there would be a negative determination, evidence from the Chief Constable and from the police was only taken after our members had actually been in to see the Parades Commission, and our members were not invited back to hear any evidence of public disorder, which is the basis of the Parades Commission determination. So we do not feel that our members have actually been given a fair hearing. There is talk of disorder and in the press the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community was saying there was going to be no threat of violence and from contact with the police they were saying there was no threat of serious disorder, so we want to know: Where did this threat of serious disorder come from? We went in on the Thursday following for a review of that determination—you have a copy of the Decision based on that. The day before we went in, we got a letter from the Commission—you have that there as well—saying that police were not going to be asked back to provide the evidence at first hand to our membership but that basically the Commission would give the evidence to the members. When we turned up for that meeting—and we took a lawyer because we were so fed up with what was going on—we were told there was no evidence, only advice, and then they got into a tautology about the difference between evidence and advice and they delivered a decision which was incomprehensible. If anybody can explain to me that decision on the 9 November, I will be more than glad to have it explained to me because I have no idea what it is. We do not believe that a fair hearing has been given, and it is the procedure of the Parades Commission that is wholly wrong and it is wholly against natural justice, which is a principle of law that was in English law long before it was in the European Convention. The European Convention, written by British lawyers, largely confirms a lot of the rights based on English law, and yet we are here with a procedure that is wholly against the process of natural justice, and we just do not think that Parliament ever, ever had intended that. We certainly think that it is something at which the Parades Commission needs to look very, very closely. On the broader issue of human rights, in their Determination of 6 November they used rights just to bounce off and toss against each other to justify a decision that they had come to. They had already come to the determination, and they simply used the Convention to find the right set of rights that would justify what they were saying and to say, "We are within the Human Rights Act" whereas in fact they are not because they have not given us a fair hearing in the first place.
  (Mr Hay) For the Parades Commission to ban a parade because of a threat of violence and then, when you go and say to them, "Where is that threat coming from?"—and when you speak to the Chief Constable, who indicated very clearly that he, as far as he was concerned, would police it no matter what determination the Parades Commission would take, and certainly he was making it clear to us he could see no threat, and when you speak to other people who could see no threat, but still the determination was very clear that there was a clear threat of violence—and they are not able to tell us where that threat of violence was coming from, it is very, very unfair.
  (Mr Hoey) I will just finish off on that point. If you go back to August 1999 when a parade was given the legal authority to go down Lower Ormeau, the basis of the disorder that was being considered at that time and presented by the police to ourselves and also to the Parades Commission was that there may be 2,000 to 3,000 people turn up at the Lower Ormeau. We know from our own intelligence, if you like, that there were certainly buses planned to come in from as far apart as Newry, Strabane and other areas. In the event, 300 people turned up that morning, mostly from Belfast, including a Member of the Assembly here, I believe, a Sinn Fein member, and proceeded to block the road, but nothing like in any way the threat of disorder that was presented in the first place. The Commission took a risk and allowed the people there to be responsible in the circumstances and I believe the Apprentice Boys were responsible in those circumstances. I also believe the police were responsible in those circumstances, dealing with a group of people who were blocking a road against the legal determination of the Parades Commission. This comes back to—and it is perhaps a point Mr Clarke was making—if the Parades Commission is not the law for everybody, who is it the law for? If we are talking about the Parades Commission being the legal authority, it is not just the legal authority for the Apprentice Boys to abide by, it is the legal authority for everybody to abide by. That means, if people are told, "You are not to be sitting across a road and you are not to have a 24-hour parade," the night before, and, "You are not to bring people into that area with the intention of being disruptive," that is for everybody to abide by. You know we have made our commitment to abiding by the law and it is about time other people did the same.
  (Mr Simpson) Can I just say that there is one word in my vocabulary that I will not use, and that is the word "never" because it might come to the time when we have no option, but it will be a sad day for the people of Northern Ireland if you have to start taking court cases against the Parades Commission for not doing their work properly.

  195. If I may try and summarise very briefly. You obviously have the strongest feelings in this area. You are making quite rigorous representations, including to us, this Committee, now, but what you are saying is that using legal challenges as some potential fall-back might have to be used in this area. It would be very unfortunate, but you would have to engage them.
  (Mr Simpson) That is correct. That is what I am saying.

Mr Pound

  196. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you particularly for the additional documentation you have circulated today. I have only skimmed it, but it is extremely interesting. Could I just ask what input you made to the NIO review of the Commission and what is your assessment of its conclusions? I am asking you for the record.
  (Mr Hoey) We made a submission that basically said, "You have only just had a review of the Commission that ended in August 1999 with Statutory Instruments. We do not understand why you have to go through another review at this stage. We do not see the point of a second review within that period of time. We do not think either that the Parades Commission should have done a review of itself. And we do not think that faceless civil servants are the people to do a review. If you are going to do a review that is trusted, do it in public, do it in the open, do it through the House of Common Select Committee.

  197. We are now on the record with that. Thank you very much indeed. The second point is particularly relevant in connection with the documentation you submitted in respect of the Belfast Walker Club. Do you support the Commission's practice of looking specifically at each parade as a self-contained, unique event or do you think that in some circumstances these parades should be looked at in groups, perhaps in geographical terms or in time terms?
  (Mr Simpson) Each parade should be taken individually.
  (Mr Hay) Each parade is very important to that community living in that area. For example, the Ormeau Road. You are talking about 25 Apprentice Boys with one band, at eight o'clock or 8.30 in the morning, walking down a road. Who could be insulted at that time of the morning with 25 members in one band?—and the only flag they carry is the Crimson Flag. Who could be insulted by that parade?

  198. I do not know. I am reminded that a member of this Committee once said to me that he knew someone who had walked 28 miles out of his way in order to be insulted!
  (Mr Hay) One of the Apprentice Boys?

  199. Indeed not. May I say you may have been sympathetic to the person who made the comment.
  (Mr Hay) We say that every parade is very significant to that community, no matter where it is in the Province, and that Apprentice Boys clubs should have their right to celebrate that culture, their culture, in their particular area. That parade is as important as our parade is in Londonderry.
  (Mr Simpson) Provided they keep within the law.
  (Mr Hoey) May I add to that. As far as I understand it, one of the reasons the Parades Commission was set up was because they wanted to look specifically at community resolution and resolution at a local level and to deal with that at very much community level. If you have an issue with people from that community—and there is no right not to be offended or whatever—but if there are people there to be dealt with or to come to an accommodation, I think we have seen in other parts of Northern Ireland where Uncle Tom Cobbley and everybody tries to resolve an issue and it is not resolved. I think we have seen in the past few days a situation where everybody tries to put their oar in and, frankly, that is not necessarily helpful. If you are going to come to a lasting accommodation that is both meaningful and is going to endure, it must be with the local communities. You are not going to be able to get other people imposing a solution. You are not going to be able to get other people walking in and heading off back to another country or back to somewhere else the next day who frankly are only in there for a job and maybe to get a bit of a headline in the newspaper. What has to happen is accommodation at a local level that will last. That is the only accommodation that is worthwhile.

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