Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)



  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 or—and this is a slightly delicate question which I would quite understand if you answered it in a somewhat Delphic manner—did 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 again?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes, sir.

  228. Do those conversations occur after the Parades Commission make their announcement, or could they occur before?
  (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 expressed.

Mr McGrady

  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 these decisions.
  (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 past?
  (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.

Mr Beggs

  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 Commission?

  (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.

Mr Thompson

  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.

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