Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 217)



  200. I do not disagree with you, I think you have made a sane and sensible point, but how is the community involved if the Commission continues to look at each single application individually? Would it not be more communitarian or whatever for the Commission actually to say, "Here is a tranche of applications in a particular geographical area in a particular time scale" and perhaps to say, "We can have one this week, maybe not the next week." Do you see where I am going? Or am I walking round in circles?
  (Mr Hay) No, the point we would try to make is that in every individual area, local parades are traditional parades—very, very much so—and very much so to that individual club. We have a Parades Commission who would tell us that they deal with every parade individually—that is what they say—but on occasions they have not done that because they banned the Ormeau Road. The only reason they banned the Ormeau Road parade was because of a threat from the Bogside residents who don't live along there. Our problem has been all along that we should treat every parade on its own merit, because it is a traditional parade we are talking about right across the Province. So it is not a matter of just shifting and saying, "You can have your parade this week, you can have your parade next week." It does not happen that way.
  (Mr Hoey) And we come back to accommodation. Accommodation is not about simply the next parade; accommodation, as I have said, is something for a longer-term solution, with the local communities meeting a resolution.

Mr Hunter

  201. Can you summarise for the Committee the attempt by the Belfast Walker Club to establish dialogue with the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community and what progress was made in the course of that dialogue?
  (Mr Hoey) Most of that obviously is subject to the confidentiality of that situation. All I can say is that a process was entered into in and around April of 1999. In terms of the setting up of that process, it is an independent chair with two sides sitting around the table. Those discussions are open, there are no closed issues within the discussions, and they progress for a period. The door is not shut on that process, but it certainly has had difficulties since April of this year in the Parades Commission's efforts to parachute in an alternative process. In terms of the actual meetings, as I said before, I think there were about 10/12 meetings over a period of 10 months.
  (Mr Simpson) In the past we have asked Apprentice Boys branches to go and talk to residents groups. It has not always been that because they have talked they have come out with an agreement. We have found that Apprentice Boys, the branches, have tried to get an agreement, but the residents groups are reluctant to get an agreement, and at the end of the day the Parades Commission have gone against the Apprentice Boys because there was not an agreement reached. I mean, it is very easy to turn round and say, "You go in and you have talks"—and there are enough politicians around who know this—but you can go in and talk, but it does not always say because you talk there is going to be an agreement. We have found that the Parades Commission has come down on the side of a residents group, who does not want the parade to go through that area, and therefore they have penalised the Apprentice Boys for doing so.
  (Mr Hay) In the way that the Apprentice Boys are structured, there may be local branches who feel they want to talk to people, they want to do things differently, and maybe in parts of the Province there are different ways of achieving what they want to achieve. Some clubs have decided not to talk to resident groups. We have respected that decision as well. There are some clubs who do want to talk to residents groups and we have said, "If you think that is the best way forward, you do it." But we have found and I think the membership have found that we are coming very close to saying to the Parades Commission, "There is no point in talking to you any longer because we are not achieving anything with all the work that we are doing."
  (Mr Hoey) Could I put the point which really rules our most recent determinations but, again, something you mentioned earlier: the pattern of determinations being based on the threat of disorder. That basically means that there is no incentive for dialogue from the residents groups any longer, because if that pattern is established, and we believe it is established—I do not know what other organisations have presented, but I believe that that pattern is well established—there is absolutely no incentive to talk. Because, basically, if your intention is that there be no parades, then threaten disorder and there will be no parade. So you have achieved your goal. So what incentive is there for you to get into accommodation or dialogue?—because you can tell your community, "Hey, we've stopped these guys coming down the street." There is no incentive for them to enter dialogue on their part. Again, if there is going to be accommodation and understanding between groups, there has to be a framework where both parties are incentivised, and at the moment the Parades Commission has put up a great big negative barrier to dialogue.
  (Mr Hay) In fact at this moment in time we have said to individual clubs that we believe they should not get into dialogue with residents groups—at this moment in time—because it is not achieving anything. And the only thing it is achieving is the Parades Commission continually coming down on the side that does the threatening of violence, irrespective of what they do.

  202. Does the Commission in any way monitor the progress of this dialogue or does the Commission rely on report summaries from the participating groups?
  (Mr Hoey) In the Lower Ormeau situation, the only thing that was, if you like, insisted on by the Apprentice Boys—in that the choice of chair, choice of location, choice of all the procedural elements were basically handed to the LOCC to take a lead on—the one thing that was agreed is that all minutes go to the Parades Commission. So the parades Commission is a party to all the minutes of the dialogue, so that again they can evaluate progress of dialogue for themselves. How they do that is something else.

  203. Staying with the Belfast Walker Club, the Remembrance Day parade determination went against the club. I understand that the club sought a review or is seeking a review on that decision and wanted to have access to the advice offered to the Commission by the police and the Commission refused. Can you give us some explanatory talk here? What was the purpose, in particular, of seeking that police advice? Is this an issue you can take further?
  (Mr Hoey) We sought the police evidence on the basis that it was evidence provided to the Commission after the Commission had met the Belfast Walker Club to talk to the Commission about its forthcoming parade. Therefore, we felt that, under the procedure which was identified in the Determination itself from the Parades Commission, there should be a review of that Determination, because there was evidence not given which the Parades Commission had. You have a copy of the Determination of the Parades Commission based on that which, frankly, as I have said, is incomprehensible, so I think you are going to have to ask the Parades Commission why it does not provide the fair hearing because we cannot work out why not.

  204. Do I understand you to be saying that the police evidence you are referring to was given to the Commission after you had given your evidence and your case?
  (Mr Hoey) That is right. The Belfast Walker Club was invited to meet the Parades Commission on the Friday—the agreed date was the Friday before the Monday of its determination. As far as I am aware, the police were asked to attend a meeting of the Parades Commission on the Monday morning of the determination and that was clearly after the Apprentice Boys had been in. Given that the 11/1 goes in 28 days before a parade, there really is no reason why people are being invited in on the morning of the determination, because surely the Parades Commission should be sitting down and giving due consideration to the evidence and to the issues at hand and not suddenly bringing in evidence to put into that determination.
  (Mr Simpson) Can I say that on all parades of the Apprentice Boys, including the main parade in Londonderry in August, the Parades Commission have this habit of leaving everything until the last minute and it heightens tension, not only with the Apprentice Boys but with the whole city of Londonderry, where people do not know where they are going and what is happening. I firmly and squarely put the blame on the Parades Commission for being so long in bringing the Determination out. There should be no reason for that.

Mr Clarke

  205. The information that was provided by the Apprentice Boys, as Mr Pound said, has been extremely useful to us, but one of the criticisms that I may have about the Commission is in respect of the information you provided to us. When they determined on 6 November on the Belfast Walker Club's parade, they said that "information and advice" had been provided by police. In the letter to your solicitors of 8 November, they talked about the Commission "will be pleased to discuss the police evidence" and also talk about "police officers would not be present for cross-examination in relation to evidence". Yet on the 9th they clearly say, "The Commission, however, did not accept that what was received from the police amounted to evidence but was merely advice". Was there not a contradiction in the Commission's position? They seem to be saying, "We have talked about this evidence in the original determination," then said it existed and then said it did not. I am trying to be helpful, in terms of I find that very confusing.
  (Mr Hoey) Yes. Welcome to the Parades Commission.
  (Mr Simpson) How can you give advice on something that you know nothing about?
  (Mr Hay) To try to clear that point up, when we talked to the police at the highest level they were certainly indicating to us that it was not evidence they were giving, it was only advice. If somebody round the table can work that out, that is exactly what they were telling us: they were not giving evidence, they were only giving advice.
  (Mr Hoey) We then asked the Parades Commission: "If it was only advice, that must be advice on evidence that there would be serious disorder, so then tell us where the evidence was that there would be serious disorder. Who did that come from?" Then they started talking about, "We only get advice" and I said, "You made the determination on the 9th, it is incomprehensible, and we did not get an answer in terms of "where is this threat of disorder." This comes back down to the fundamental of a fair hearing. If there is evidence that is denying freedom of assembly, then what is that evidence? Surely our club has a right to understand what that evidence is, to respond to it. If it is in dialogue—I mean, let us get back to the encouragement of being in dialogue—how does it know what are issues to address if it has not been told what the issues are?

  Mr Clarke: Thank you for your patience, Chairman.

Mr Thompson

  206. Good morning, gentlemen. Just to change the issue a little bit, as I understand it all your parades are traditional parades.
  (Mr Simpson) Yes.

  207. Given the demographic changes that are taking place in the Province, as a general rule do you think that all traditional parades should be set in stone?
  (Mr Simpson) Some people are saying they should be buried! I think the traditional parades should be allowed to take place no matter what section of the community it comes from, should it be Protestant or Nationalist or whatever. We have no problems in the city of Londonderry with having a parade on 12 August or the nearest date and the Ancient Order of Hibernians having theirs on 15 August. I am one who says stand for civil and religious liberty. You will not see me nor a lot of the Protestants in Londonderry go out opposing the Ancient Order of Hibernians on 15 August. We must be fair. If we say we stand for civil and religious liberty, it means for all, and we will not go out and oppose another parade, because if we did the whole of Northern Ireland would be in anarchy.
  (Mr Hay) I think it is very important that traditional parades in Northern Ireland are protected as far as possible. That is very important.

  208. Do you support the concept which is sometimes made of taking a different approach to traditional and non-traditional parades?
  (Mr Simpson) That is a very parliamentary question you are asking there. Could you be a bit more specific?

  209. There are some people who say that all traditional parades should go on but that a different point of view should be taken in relation to those parades which are not traditional. They may be new parades that maybe have come up recently and are not really traditional.
  (Mr Simpson) All parades should be seen in the same light and taken into consideration what the parade is for, the reason for it, and a decision made—no matter what section it comes from.

  210. The Committee is seeking to establish how, within the existing framework of law and structures, the effectiveness of the Commission may be enhanced. What suggestions do you have to offer?
  (Mr Hoey) We were looking at the framework and we put down the issue of getting the law right, particularly in respect to natural justice. That is something that should have a very, very serious look taken at it. It comes back to the fundamental difficulty with the Parades Commission, particularly since February of this year, and that is that there is almost serial incompetence, you have no idea where it is going. There is £1 million been spent on an organisation that, frankly, I have no idea what its criteria are, I do not know from one parade to the next the way its determinations are going to be made. There are parades, such as the one at Maghera, where they were sending people down the wrong streets, where they had not worked out exactly where anything should be anywhere. They tell you in August that they would be minded to allow a parade to go down the Lower Ormeau Road before Christmas and then make a case in the Determination that they were mindful that the parade being requested on the 11 November was non-traditional, when any parade before Christmas was going to be non-traditional, so any parade applied for was non-traditional, so what is the point? What is their problem? I think the biggest issue with the Commission is quite simply that it does not know what it is doing. I think the biggest issue is a very strong crash-course in administrative management and how to organise itself. With somebody being paid £70,000 a year, perhaps that person should not be based in Plymouth and perhaps the Commission should be perhaps more full-time or perhaps have a more consistent basis of meeting.

  211. Do you think that the Commission could be changed to make it more acceptable to the Loyal Orders?
  (Mr Simpson) No.

  212. Does that mean you think that it ought to be scrapped?
  (Mr Simpson) Could I put it this way: is there any of you gentlemen that can see that anything that the Parades Commission has done since it was formed, what good it has done for the good of Northern Ireland.

  Chairman: I did not have to intervene on Mr Thompson, but I was going to remind my Committee that we were asking the questions!

Mr McGrady

  213. Good morning, gentlemen. I am not sure what I am asking you for, in terms of previous comments, whether you were giving us advice or whether you were giving us evidence, but we will sort that out later. From your last answer it is quite clear that you have no time whatsoever for the Parades Commission. While the Committee is engaged in concentrating their opinion on the current framework, you would like to see that framework abolished, from what you have said, so the abolition of the Commission would presumably be your first choice. But if you confirm that that is so, then what do you see taking its place in order to address the problem that is obviously there in our community. Do you see a body which could modify or change or ban groups of parades?
  (Mr Simpson) I believe that the only people who can bring the answer to Northern Ireland and with the problems of Northern Ireland are people who live in Northern Ireland. I have found that Mr Holland and Alistair Graham beforehand just had not a clue what the problems were all about, and yet they were the ones that were making the decisions for the benefit of Northern Ireland. I would prefer to see a body that was from Stormont here, where they know exactly where the problems are from. Because, at the end of the day, if we do not have that, we will never get a resolution to the problem.

  214. I take it that you do see a body, be it a local body, a body proposed of local personages. That would rule out, for instance, giving power back to the Secretary of State to ban or allow parades, or, indeed, what is your comment on giving power back to the police to ban or permit parades?
  (Mr Simpson) First of all, to the Secretary of State, I would not agree, because it has been proven in the past—when a previous Secretary of State closed the walls to the Apprentice Boys on 12 August they nearly wrecked the whole city because of it. I do not know whether it would be the police force to be the ruler of this new body, but it must be someone who has a knowledge of the law and order, who has a knowledge of parades, wherever they come from, and, at the end of the day, the bottom line would be for the good of Northern Ireland.

  215. Can I ask a digression question. During the debate on the Committee Stage of the Parades Bill establishing this Commission, traditionality was a subject of great comment. A certain colleague, who I think would be a member of one of the Loyal Orders, explained to me in some detail that a traditional parade could be one which in certain circumstances took place every 47 years. Would you concur that that is a traditional parade in terms of it spanning a vacancy of two generations?
  (Mr Simpson) Time is only a measurement to be a guide on what a tradition should be and what it should not. It is very hard—and I would not even begin to start—to say what is tradition and what is not. We in the Apprentice Boys Association know what tradition means for our Association but it may be completely different for some other organisations. Therefore, I would not turn round and say that tradition is such and such.


  216. We have done extremely well in terms of time, so I shall ask Mr Hay if he wants in any way to expand on what I cut him off from saying right at the beginning when I said I thought we ought to get into questions, though I think there has perhaps been an opportunity in terms of the answers you have given to cover anything which obviously you wanted to say at that juncture. Let me clarify whether any of my colleagues has a supplementary they want to ask before we bring it to a conclusion. It does not sound as though we do, therefore clearly we have been able to cover the ground that we wanted to cover and we are very grateful to you for the evidence you gave to us. There is one tiny historical point I would like to verify: we have covered in this examination several questions about the events of the November Belfast Walker Club march and the conversations which occurred in the context of that. As I understand it, a protest parade was also notified by the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community and this was also the subject of a formal determination by the Commission restricting it to the hours of 6 am to 7 am. As a matter of historical record, do you know whether that march actually took place?
  (Mr Hoey) On the basis of previous applications and previous events, including, I think, the one before, was to paint or to launch a new mural within the Lower Ormeau community—no idea if it happened but previous ones had not. When I asked—at Easter, I think it was, this year—the Authorised Officer if in fact she had turned up to observe whether they had kept within the guidelines of the Parades Commission determination she turned and told me, "There was no point in doing that because they were not going to have a parade because you were not going down the road." So basically this is a tactical effort to bring people within an area, that if a parade went ahead there would be a large body of people, and a large body of people has the potential for disorder, and the potential for disorder would appear to be enough for the Parades Commission to say it cannot happen.
  (Mr Hay) Chairman, you notice our Governor was very measured when he talked about a former Secretary of State.

  217. Mr Hay, not only did I note that he was very measured, I find when anybody starts a sentence giving evidence about a former Secretary of State I immediately prepare myself for the possibility that it was myself. Thank you most warmly for giving evidence and indeed for the submissions you have provided us with. It has been thoroughly worthwhile from our point of view and we are very appreciative.
  (Mr Simpson) May I say, once again, thank you very much for giving us your time to listen to us.

  Chairman: Certainly.

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