Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
OBE, AND INSPECTOR
220. Is it possible to summarise the view of
senior officers on the ground at that time as to the ability of
a group of lay people to manage the serious public order problem
that a contentious parade can throw up?
(Mr McQuillan) I think so. We had dealt with the parades
issue for many years and I believe we did a reasonably good job
in trying to act as an honest broker in that, but there was a
series of incidents that had happened surrounding the Drumcree
issues. For many years the view within the Force had been that
we were best placed to do the job. However, that view began to
change as the political temperature surrounding the parades issue
rose and when the North Committee was considering what to do about
parades the Force position was that we would support the creation
of an independent body. Generally there is still a spectrum, to
be honest, of views among operational commanders but I would say
that the overall position of the senior command team and of most
commanders is that they support the current arrangements and are
all doing everything they can to try and make them work.
221. Therefore in terms of experience since
the Parades Commission was set up there has not been any shift
in that opinion?
(Mr McQuillan) I do think so, sir. I think as time
has gone on if anything confidence in the arrangements within
the RUC has increased as we have gained more experience of them.
We are realists. We recognise that this is a very contentious
and extremely difficult issue and that no organisation is going
to get it right all the time. We would accept that we did not
always get it right in the past. It is a question of trying to
balance very different conflicting opposing interests and trying
to find a way forward to develop those and to improve the situation
for the future. I think we would recognise the problems that the
Commission have and we certainly support their objectives and
feel that they are trying to do their best in those.
222. When it was set up did you effectively
hand over the central responsibility to the Parades Commission
orand this is a slightly delicate question which I would
quite understand if you answered it in a somewhat Delphic mannerdid
you maintain either alternative channels or vehicles side by side
with the Commission?
(Mr McQuillan) If you are talking about in terms of
contacts with the community, one of the difficulties we have with
the arrangements, and it is wrong to describe it as a difficulty,
is that police officers are intimately involved in this issue
because we are responsible for policing the Parades Commission's
determinations. Equally, parades issues come from and have a huge
impact upon community issues and community relations. We believe
that we cannot stand aside from this process. We would not wish
to, nor do we feel that that would be appropriate or in the interests
of the community. When the Parades Commission was set up we agreed
ground rules with the Parades Commission in terms of how they
would operate. We were in their hands in that but we have agreed
and established professional relationships. We have maintained,
so far as is possible for us to maintain, our base of contacts
within the community. We have developed contacts with the Parades
Commission, with the Parades Commission Authorised Officers, and
we feel that we are properly, professionally and fully consulted
during the work of the Commission, not that they always accept
our views; they do not, but we feel that we are involved in that
process. We have also maintained our own links because these are
not separate issues. The same people who are involved in parades
are involved in a whole series of other political and community
issues that we have to deal with as police officers. We also have
discretion on how we implement the Parades Commission determinations.
It is also vital that when the time comes to implement the Parade
Commission's determinations we have that range of contacts and
can implement those, and especially as we move the pattern into
much more of an emphasis on policing through a community policing
style, by attempting to talk to people, to negotiate in order
to get them to agree to operate within the law.
223. Is it broadly the case that that has worked
well so far as the Commission is concerned?
(Mr McQuillan) We have regular contacts with the Commission.
Each year we meet at the start of the marching season. We go through
the broad picture in Northern Ireland at that stage. We are asked
to come and give advice to the Commission on specific parades
and at official level and sometimes with the Commissioners themselves
I and my colleagues meet on a regular basis to manage the systems
that operate between us. Inspector McGarry, who I have brought
with me today, is actually the Parades Commission liaison officer
in the RUC. That is his full time job and he maintains contacts
with the officials on a daily basis.
224. Do the Commission find the manner in which
you operate a thoroughly satisfactory one in terms of your working
in liaison with them?
(Mr McQuillan) It is difficult for me to answer that,
sir. What I can say is that occasionally we will have disagreements.
We may disagree on a legal point, in which case we will co-operatively
seek legal advice. We may disagree on a decision on a given parade,
in which case we have a professional discussion about that, but
the position is that we support the Commission, we recognise the
Commission's position, and we do everything we can to implement
their determinations. They have not indicated to us any significant
dissatisfaction with anything we do.
225. When you used the word "discretion"
a moment ago, did that mean your right to say if you have a different
opinion from theirs?
(Mr McQuillan) Yes.
226. Or did it have a significance beyond that?
(Mr McQuillan) No, sir. These are contentious issues.
There are different things to be balanced and we may arrive at
different conclusions. The fact that the way in which parades
have been conducted over the last three or four years in very
contentious times with great difficulties and the scale of the
disorder that there has been compared to what there could have
been I think shows that the system works generally well. That
is not to say that anyone in this situation can ever get it 100
per cent right all the time.
227. One final question, which again you should
be at liberty to say if you think it is improper: in other words
you should have a discretion, the phrase you have used again and
(Mr McQuillan) Yes, sir.
228. Do those conversations occur after the
Parades Commission make their announcement, or could they occur
(Mr McQuillan) It is interactive. If I could describe
the system, sir, what will normally happen on a parade is that
notification by law is submitted to the RUC. We immediately pass
that notification to the Parades Commission. We then carry out
an assessment of the parade and we provide the Commission with
a basic assessment of whether or not we believe that parade to
be contentious. The Commission may also decide, if we do not feel
the parade is contentious, to consider it contentious. For all
contentious parades we then prepare a detailed memorandum which
sets out our analysis of that parade. That memorandum since June
last year has been drawn up on a human rights order basis and
we go through each of the various conditions on the Public Processions
Act and the Human Rights Act that are relevant to parades. We
do an assessment of each; that is done by the local commander.
He or she then writes a synopsis at the bottom of that and that
goes to the Commission. There are then very often discussions
between my officers at police headquarters and the Commission,
local commanders sometimes and the Commission, or local commanders
and the Authorised Officers. This is all part of the consultation
process before the Commission makes its decision. In the most
contentious cases I or some of my commanders or some of my regional
colleagues can be called up to give formal advice to the Commission
at a formal session. It is a very interactive process, sir, and
at some of those discussions there will be differences of opinion
229. In your report to the Committee dealing
with your submission to the Northern Ireland Office review of
the Parades Commission, you stated at the bottom of page 4 that
the Loyal Order's refusal to engage with the Parades Commission
has frustrated the mediation process. Then you go on to say that
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 liaise with the police. Could you indicate
in some way who these parties are or were, and what reasons they
previously had or still have for not engaging in the process with
the Parades Commission and the mediation services attached to
the decision making process?
(Mr McQuillan) I think there is a range of bodies.
In terms of the Orange Orders or the Loyal Orders, some of the
Orders in most of the circumstances have decided not to engage
with the Parades Commission. They are however still willing usually
to talk with the police, though not always, I have to say. We
would, as part of our normal policing role, wish to maintain those
contacts as we would with any other group. The groups whom the
Authorised Officers have succeeded in contacting and bringing
more into the process are in many ways the residents' groups.
A number of the residents' groups in the past (not all of them
but some of them) would not have entered into any formal discussions
or relationships with the police or negotiations with the police
for political reasons. I presume as well that some of them would
say it was because they saw us as biased against them. The authorised
officers, it is arguable, have broadened the base of consultation.
We would have liked to broaden that base. We still form part of
that base of consultation, but this is an issue that ultimately
has to be resolved through consultation and negotiation.
230. Your answer seems to indicate to me that
the reasons for previous non-engagement by community groups was
political attitudes towards policing. What were the reasons given
by the other groupings, and you did refer to some groups of the
Loyal Orange Orders? What was their reason for not participating
with the mediation system of the Parades Commission, in your opinion?
(Mr McQuillan) I am not really fully in a position
to speak for them. I have heard them express various views and
in some cases they take an absolute view that they have a right
to march along certain routes and they therefore refuse to recognise
the existence of a body which can act to restrict that. Can I
say too that in some cases they took that view with us prior to
the establishment of the Parades Commission. If I can give an
example of that, there was a parade in Portadown many years ago
up Obins Street and the RUC determined years ago that that parade
would no longer continue up Obins Street because of the change
in the nature of the community in that area and we stopped that
parade, which led to serious rioting. Each year the Orange Order
still usually serve us a notice to go up Obins Street and when
they are parading up to Corcain Orange Hall they stop and they
serve a protest letter on us that they are not allowed to go up
Obins Street, and that dates back 12 or 14 years.
231. In the lifespan of the Parades Commission
have you seen a willingness for people to engage in mediation
either through yourselves or through the Parades Commission, just
in general terms?
(Mr McQuillan) The answer is yes. If there are some
good examples of mediation probably the best is the Apprentice
Boys of Derry and the situation that has been arrived at in Derry
was by mediation. That was not actually done through the Parades
Commission but it was arrived at through mediation.
232. The creation of the Parades Commission
and their legal requirement to make decisions was a very big change
from the situation which existed where the police had to make
(Mr McQuillan) Yes.
233. In a sense you were relieved of the responsibility
to make determinations regarding parades. I will not ask you whether
that was a good thing or a bad thing but did that have an effect,
or could you assess the effect that that had on the perception
by the communities of the manner in which the police had to deal
with the subsequent decisions?
(Mr McQuillan) In one sense it has become easier for
us in that we can now turn to people who are not happy with the
decision and say that it was not our decision; it is the Parades
Commission's decision and we are enforcing their determination,
so in that sense it is easier. Lest there be any doubt, let me
say that my position, and my organisation's position I am sure,
is that we welcome the creation of the Parades Commission; we
think it is a good thing. In that sense it has made it easier.
There are difficulties. There are tactical difficulties. In the
past we very often would not have announced our decisions on parades
until the last moment and this meant that tactically we could
keep our plans secret until the last moment and it made it a lot
easier to police events. Some of the frustrations of my colleagues
with the system are that because it is so open and determinations
are published five days in advance it allows the opportunity for
organised opposition or the parade organisers, if they are being
banned or restricted, to make alternative plans. That makes the
policing operation more difficult, but we live through that, sir.
234. Does your submission to the Committee not
make the comment that there has been a significant increase in
the number of parades which are now deemed to be contentious (and
you have given some statistical evidence of that) and you give
two reasons? One is the broadening of the factors which the Commission
must consider, and secondly the establishment of new conduits
of communication that previously did not exist.
(Mr McQuillan) Yes.
235. Could I suggest a third reason that you
may consider and respond to, that parades which previously should
have been banned or were contentious were not so banned and therefore
do not appear in your statistics and that there is less toleration
of controversial parades now than there would have been in the
(Mr McQuillan) There is a series of factors. That
may well be true. I cannot persuade the Committee by statistical
or other evidence perhaps that it is not. There was a series of
factors there. The number of controversial parades has risen,
partly because of Drumcree. For example, at Drumcree in the past
we would have maybe four parades a year. We now have a parade
notified every week, so there are almost 50 additional parades,
perhaps more, every year from that one site. I am sure people
will argue that there were parades that were not controversial
before, but equally there are indications of an intent to politically
exploit the parades issue. That is not the case on every occasion.
There are groups that have a very well founded and genuine interest
in the parades issues that are deeply concerned about some of
these parades, and justifiably so, in their areas on both sides,
but there has also been a greater focus on parades as an issue
from the mid 1990s and that has made the parades themselves more
controversial and we are now seeing challenges to parades in areas
where there have not been significant challenges in the past and
where representations have never been made to the police in the
past. I cannot totally deny your point, sir, but I would not say
it is a total explanation of the rise.
236. The statistics which the RUC has provided
at Appendix A, page 71, of their memorandum suggest that only
a small proportion of parades need action taken about them and
that disorder occurs at only a handful each year.
(Mr McQuillan) That is right.
237. How widespread in reality is the parades
problem and is it sensible to talk of a general parades problem
or is the reality that we have a few local disputes driven largely
by local factors?
(Mr McQuillan) Over the lifespan of the Parades Commission
I think we have determined that roughly seven per cent of parades
were controversial and required the intervention of the Commission
in some way in terms of assessing the parade or perhaps making
a determination. Ninety three per cent of parades in Northern
Ireland, the vast majority on both sides of the community, are
not regarded as controversial and they pass off without problem,
and some of those go through mixed communities as well. The problem
is around the seven per cent mark. A number of those are concentrated
in specific areas. If you look, for example, at the impact of
Portadown, there are perhaps 12 sites in Northern Ireland where
there are problems, so in that sense yes, these are localised
problems, but because of the political situation in Northern Ireland
they are capable of having a Province-wide effect. There is the
general issue about parades, the general issue about community
relations and relationships between communities, but very often
the issues in parading in terms of a given parade itself are down
to micro issues about the local community. If I can give an example,
in Londonderry there are disputes about which way round the Cenotaph
a particular parade will go. In other words, the Cenotaph is in
the middle of a circular road, and so does it go round clockwise
or anti-clockwise, because that has an impact on the perception
of one community or the other. A lot of these things are very
much based on micro issues and local community issues, which is
not surprising given the nature of the tensions.
238. In an earlier answer to a question from
Mr McGrady you referred to the interactive relationship between
the RUC and the Parades Commission. Are there any additional links
between the RUC and the Parades Commission to those you have already
referred to and how often do you as Assistant Chief Constable
responsible for operations meet formally with members of the Parades
(Mr McQuillan) I have been in post now
for about 18 months and I suppose that in that time I have formally
met with the Commission sitting as a Commission perhaps six times.
Those meetings would all tend to take place during the summer.
I would have perhaps had meetings with the Chairmen once or twice
each so perhaps I have met them about ten times in around 18 months,
something like that. I would fairly regularly be in contact with
the Chief Executive. Again I could not enumerate that but a lot
of this would be problem driven. It would be when we are carrying
out an end of year review that we would have a lot of contact
and we sit down and formally discuss things. When we get into
the peak of the marching season we would be discussing things
perhaps on a day by day basis sometimes. That would I hope give
you a flavour of the scale of contact. Inspector McGarry's job
is nothing but liaison with the Commission and presumably he would
be in contact with them on a daily basis.
239. First of all, as a member of the Orange
institution I again declare an interest. In fact, I have a very
big interest in this issue. First of all, I always understood
that it was the job of the police to protect people marching the
Queen's Highway or the public highway. Have the police not failed
to do that in Northern Ireland?
(Mr McQuillan) It is our job, sir, to protect all
people. That includes those who wish to march, those who wish
to protest and those in the community who wish quite simply to
stay in their houses or go into shops or whatever.