Memorandum submitted by the Royal Ulster
This paper will first discuss the background
leading to the establishment of the Parades Commission. Secondly,
the operation of the Parades Commission will be examined in relation
to its interaction with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Finally,
consideration will be given in how the Commission's effectiveness
may be improved concentrating in particular on its function of
Parades and marches within Northern Ireland
are deeply steeped in tradition and are reflective of the Province's
political, religious, social and cultural life. Unfortunately
a relatively small number of these parades
have become the catalyst for intercommunity tension and at times
serious public disorder. For example, the tensions and protests
now associated with the annual parade at Drumcree hold the power
to usurp the normal commercial and social life, not only in the
Portadown area, but also of the wider community within Northern
Prior to the establishment of the Parades Commission,
the Royal Ulster Constabulary were responsible for decision-making
in relation to contentious parades. The RUC have always recognised
the sensitivities surrounding the parading issue, though its decision-making
process was bound by the requisite public order legislation. While
this legislation permitted the police power to re-route a parade
from its notified route, it specified relatively narrow parameters
of when these powers could be exercised. These parameters demanded
that serious disorder, serious disruption of community life, or
serious damage to property would be the likely outcome if the
parade as notified was allowed to proceed.
Following the violence associated with the marching
season in 1996, the government commissioned Dr Peter North to
review what public policy changes would be necessary to address
the intricacies of this ongoing problem.
In the Royal Ulster Constabulary's written submission
to the "Independent Review of Parades and Marches",
the establishment of a "tribunal" (vis-a"-vis
the Parades Commission) which would be empowered to adjudicate
on contentious parades was supported:
"The case for establishing a tribunal may
rest on two main arguments. Firstly, that it provides a mechanism
which in the public perception separates purely operational RUC
decisions from those which are seen as increasingly political.
Secondly, a tribunal may allow interaction, debate and dialogue,
improving the chances of finding a generally acceptable solution
to the issue of a contentious parade".
Following the publication of Dr North's report,
the Parades Commission was established by the enactment of the
Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. This tranferred
the responsibility for adjudicating on parades from the Royal
Ulster Constabulary to the Parades Commission.
Since the establishment of the Commission, there
has been a significant increase in the number of parades now deemed
to be contentious. In the period 1992 to 1997, out of a total
of 18,186 parades, 141 had conditions imposed by the Royal Ulster
Constabulary. Since the establishment of the Parades Commission
in 1998, out of a total of 9,778 parades, 383 have been the subject
There are two main reasons by which this increase
may be explained. First, the Act broadened the factors that the
Commission must consider in relation to all parades, rather than
simply focusing on public order legislation. Second, the work
of the Authorised Officers has established new conduits of communication
that previously did not exist.
The Act also places certain statutory requirements
upon the Royal Ulster Constabulary. For example, the legislation
requires organisers of parades and protests to serve notices of
intention upon a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary not less
than the rank of Sergeant, at the police station nearest to the
proposed starting point. Furthermore, the Chief Constable is required
to immediately forward such notices to the Commission.
From the inception of the Parades Commission,
the Royal Ulster Constabulary have been committed to enhancing
the statutory requirements by establishing mechanisms deemed necessary
to both maintain a high quality of interaction between the Commission
and the RUC, while maintaining the integrity of both organisations.
These measures are intended to assist the Commission's effectiveness
in conducting their statutory functions.
Such mechanisms include:
Appointment of the Assistant Chief
Constable, Operations with responsibility to ensure that close
working relationships between the RUC and Commission are maintained
at the highest level of police command.
Appointment of an Inspector to act
as the liaison officer with the Commission. This Officer, who
is attached to RUC Headquarters, is tasked to provide the first
point of contact for the exchange of information between the RUC
Establishment of agreed protocols,
aimed at promoting better understanding and co-ordination between
of the functions of both organisations.
These protocols include:
Establishing procedures in relation
to processing notifications of public processions and related
Establishing the procedures by
which information is submitted to the Parades Commission as part
of their consultation and information gathering process. It should
be noted that with effect from June 2000, the RUC consider carefully
the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 when tendering submissions
to the Commission in respect of potentially contentious parades.
Establishing procedures to be
adopted by the Parades Commission in relation to the issuing of
When the Commission issue their determination
in respect of a contentious parade, the police have an opportunity
afforded them by statute to appeal to the Secretary of State if
they disagree with their findings. It is significant that to date
the Royal Ulster Constabulary have not deemed it necessary to
invoke the operation of these provisions.
In November 1999, the Royal Ulster Constabulary
was invited to make a submission to the Northern Ireland Office's
Review of the Parades Commission.
The terms of reference for this review were
"Within the existing framework of law and
structures, and taking account of views received from interested
parties and the experience of the marching season over the last
two years, to consider:
possible ways of achieving even greater
acceptance of the approach to handling contentious parades; and,
the arrangements for mediation;
and to report to Ministers by the end of December
The RUC's submission to the NIO's review alluded
to the difficulties faced by the Commission in relation to their
statutory function to "facilitate mediation" as set
out in Section 2(2)(a) of the Act. It is however recognised that
with the exception of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Loyal
Orders' refusal to engage with the Parades Commission has frustrated
the mediation process. On the positive side, the existence of
the Commission's Authorised Officers has acted as an important
conduit to other parties who previously refused to engage with
Within the bounds of the current legislative
processes, the Royal Ulster Constabulary consider that the Parades
Commission, via the conduit of its Authorised Officers, hold the
key legislative reponsibility for mediation. In practice however,
the process has proven sufficiently flexible for the Commission
to encourage mediation through whichever channel may ultimately
prove to be the most successful. For example, some groups have
determined that they will only talk exclusively to certain parties,
namely, Authorised Officers, the RUC, community leaders, or at
certain junctures the Prime Minister and his representatives.
During 2000, there have been a number of examples
of mediation which has not involved the Parades Commission. Portadown
District LOL No 1 and the Garvaghy Residents group have engaged
the mediation services of Brian Curran in an attempt to reach
a solution to the Drumcree impasse. Successful mediation initiated
by Londonderry/Derry's City Centre Initiative Group between the
Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Bogside Residents, paved the
way for a peaceful ABOD parade in Londonderry on 12 August 2000.
The RUC's submission to the NIO Review on the
question of mediation concluded that the dual role allotted to
the Parades Commission to facilitate mediation and to make binding
determinations gives rise to an unavoidable conflict of interests.
The majority of contentious parades are those organised by the
Loyal Orders, which seek to parade through or close to Nationalist
areas. As a consequence therefore, the Loyal Orders may always
perceive bias in a system that seeks to restrict or impose conditions
on such parades. The problem is therefore the "perceived"
unfairness of the entire process rather than the fact that the
Commission has attempted both mediation and then determined on
While the Royal Ulster Constabulary maintains
this view despite its omission from the conclusions of the NIO
Review, some positive developments have since emerged.
In the ongoing Lower Ormeau Road dispute involving
Belfast Walker Club, ABOD and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community,
the Parades Commission appears to have stepped back from involving
their Authorised Officers directly in the mediation process. In
August the Commission appointed two mediators in an attempt to
resolve this situation. Such a development is welcomed by the
Royal Ulster Constabulary and permissible within the bounds of
existing legislation. If the Commission further develops this
approach, then it could be transposed to other contentious areas
as a process contributing to conflict resolution.
It is the opinion of the Royal Ulster Constabulary
that there appears to be a greater willingness within the wider
community to accept that mediation and negotiation is the way
forward to resolve the parading issue. It is suggested that the
part played by the Parades Commission has assisted to engender
this general perception within the wider community.
The establishment and operation of the Parades
Commission has brought positive benefits, namely:
they have provided channels of communication
that previously did not exist;
they have increased the frequency
of local engagements;
there is evidence of a reduced level
of violence, evident in instances where protests are held even
when local engagement has failed;
there has been a growing recognition
by both sides of the community that not all parades can proceed
as notified; and
there is tentative evidence of some
reduction in the cost of policing protest associated with parades.
Using the Drumcree protest as an example, police expenditure has
decreased each year since the establishment of the Parades Commission.
Figures show that in the period 1998-2000 policing Drumcree's
main protest in July has cost £11 million, £6 million
and £5.5 million respectively.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary remain committed
to involving themselves with the Parades Commission in order to
support them in their difficult task. Ultimately the key to resolving
the issue of disputed parades rests with the wider Northern Ireland
community, not solely with the Parades Commission.
6 December 2000
1 See Appendix `A' page 71,-Statistical analysis of
parades 1996-2000. (Source-RUC Statistics Unit). Back