Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. Provided they are peaceable?
  (Mr McQuillan) Provided they do it peaceably, and in that we have to try and balance all sorts of conflicting priorities and interests and views.

  241. Coming to the issue of a breach of the peace, it seems to be that if a parade is legitimate and peaceful but someone is going to threaten a breach of the peace, then the parade is affected. Should action not be taken against those who are going to make the breach of the peace rather than a law-abiding citizen?
  (Mr McQuillan) There are two issues in relation to that. The first one is the nature of the determination by the Commission. The legal framework we work within is that we give the Commission advice on what we believe will happen in various scenarios on a controversial parade where there was, say, a risk of disorder. It is then for the Commission to balance those and make its determination and it is up to us to enforce that determination. In enforcing the determination we would have to have regard to all the other factors because there are various ways in which we can police a parade. If a parade is going to breach the Parades Commission's determination we can stop the parade. We could allow the parade to go and police it through an area, or we could take other action in terms of prosecuting the individuals concerned or arresting the individuals concerned. There are all sorts of options for us. What we have to do is consider the operational situation at the time and make our decisions on that basis. We would have regard to the rights of everybody in that. The difficulty we have is that there are no easy answers here. If people are determined to come into conflict with each other it is a matter of balancing the harm that would occur in each situation. The major factor in our decision making process has to be what is the determination of the Commission.

  242. How many times have the Parades Commission re-routed or stopped a parade when the police advice was that that parade could be policed without difficulty?
  (Mr McQuillan) I do not have figures on that, sir. I do not think that the Commission would have re-routed a parade—I am trying to give you a straight answer on this. I am not aware of circumstances where the Commission would normally re-route a parade where the police would give advice that it could pass off completely peacefully. However, we do not keep figures for our advice on parades versus the ultimate outcome, so I do not have any statistical figures on that. In the parades in which determinations are made in my experience there is always some sort of opposition to the parade in some way or the Parades Commission do not usually make a determination, so the Parades Commission is part of the process I have identified, that there is some factor of opposition there and that is the basis on which they are making a decision. It is not that they are totally opposed to it.

  243. I will put it another way. Are you aware of situations where a parade might go ahead with fewer police, when the determination of the Commission was that it took more police?
  (Mr McQuillan) Absolutely. There are some parades where we have advised the Commission that if this parade were allowed to go ahead we anticipate that we can police this with so many officers. In some cases policing that in line with the determination takes two or three times as many police officers. We accept that that is the decision of the Parades Commission and we do everything we can to make sure that the resources are there to police the determination.

  244. But would you consider a determination by the Parades Commission in that circumstance as a wise decision?
  (Mr McQuillan) I do not think it is a position for me to decide whether their decision was wise or not. My job as a police officer is to enforce the law. The law is that if they determine I am duty bound to try and do that. As I have said, we have professional discussions on these matters, we give professional advice to them. In the vast majority of cases they accept it. In some cases they do not. I will come back to my point that overall collectively we have got it right in most cases. We do not agree with them in all their decisions.

  245. What are the procedures by which RUC and commissioners submit to the Parades Commission as part of its information gathering and consultation process? How have these been influenced by the coming into effect of the Human Rights Act?
  (Mr McQuillan) If I can go through the sequence briefly from the original receipt of a notice of an intention to parade, and we can if it is necessary provide documentation of this to the Committee afterwards in terms of the forms, organisers of a parade are required to submit a notice to the police and that includes various details about the parade. They have to submit that to a police sergeant or above at the nearest station. We immediately communicate it to the Commission along with information from the local police commander on the nature of the parade, whether it is a traditional parade, traditional route, and whether or not we consider it to be contentious. That acts as the first trigger of notice that there is going to be a parade. The Parade Commission AOs will then become involved and will begin to assess the parade. There may be contact between our local officers and the AOs. If the parade is deemed contentious we begin to do an assessment. We do that assessment on what we call a form 11/9 and that includes factors like the recent history of parades in this area, the extent to which past parades have complied with the Commission's Code of Conduct, any evidence of previous disorder at such parades. We do what is called a community impact assessment, in other words, what will the impact of this parade be on relationships within the community from a police perspective. We then do a specific human rights impact analysis and we do that against Article 2: the right to life, Article 5: the right to liberty, Article 8: the right to private family life, Article 9: the right to freedom of thought and religion, Article 10: the right to freedom of expression, Article 11: the right to free assembly and association, and Article 14: the prohibition on discrimination. We also give an assessment from the local commander on contentious parades. That goes to the Commission. If the Commission want further information they will contact us. They would normally do that through Inspector McGarry's office or they may go direct on a few occasions to the local division. On the really difficult decisions we would frequently be asked to come and talk to the Commission and answer any questions they may have and those are formal sessions which are recorded. They then prepare a draft determination for the parade. They would normally let us have sight of that a short time before it is published. Then they issue their determination, sir. That is the broad thrust of the process. In terms of how the human rights impact has affected that, up until June last year we operated a slightly different system. Most of the components were the same except for the human rights issues. From June last year we implemented what we believe is a fully human rights compliant assessment process and we have a complete audit trail of the decisions and why we took them for each of the contentious parades.

  246. You are responsible of course to the Human Rights Act as well?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes, sir.

  247. Is there a possibility of conflict between your views of what human right is and what the Commission's view is? Could there be a conflict of interest?
  (Mr McQuillan) These are difficult balancing judgements and there is always the possibility that there could be a difference of opinion. We have had discussions, I have personally had discussions, with the Commission on parades in terms of how we balance the issues in given cases. I have to say that there is provision within the Act that if a situation were arrived at where the Chief Constable felt that the decision of the Commission was so inappropriate he has the power to appeal to the Secretary of State. We have never exercised that power.

  248. Finally, at present the Parades Commission treats each parade as a separate entity, although there is some evidence from their determinations that they may take account of the cumulative impact of a number of parades on a particular area. What effect would this have on its ability to resolve some of the more difficult cases? Is there not a case for them sometimes to allow parades that are in one location all the time, particularly where one or other side seeks to let them, as with the Apprentice Boys' parades in Belfast and Londonderry?
  (Mr McQuillan) In terms of the general issue the Act itself is structured in such a way that each parade is considered parade by parade. Therefore that is a legal issue. In terms of whether it would be better to consider the totality, as I started my evidence today by saying, that these parades and the parades problems are symptomatic of general and wider problems with community relations, the answer must be yes, that if we could resolve those problems of community relations, if we could resolve those conflicts, then some of the parades issues would dissipate or become easier to deal with.

Mr Burgon

  249. What is the character and status of the materials supplied by the RUC to the Parades Commission and is it evidence to the Commission or is it advice? How would you explain the possible subtle distinction between the two?
  (Mr McQuillan) We will give the Commission a professional assessment on each of the components I have outlined. For example, I take the right to life. On a controversial parade we would look perhaps at the different options for dealing with that event and with the possible consequences of each in terms of public disorder and the dangers and risks associated with each of those. That is based upon our professional judgement looking at the intelligence we have, our knowledge of past events in this area, and the strength of the parade itself, the nature of the parade and any opposition. That would be the broad nature of the evidence. On the question of is it evidence or advice, we have been quite lax, both the police and the Parades Commission, in the past in terms of whether we call this evidence or whether we call it advice. I think the question is, is this a judicial process or not? We have taken the view that we are providing confidential information to the Parades Commission which is based upon our assessments. I think that is the view that the Commission have accepted in the past. There is an issue, and I think Mr Holland referred to this in his evidence to this Committee, of whether or not this is a full quasi-judicial process and there would be major implications if that were held to be the case.

  250. Would any problems arise for the RUC if its advice or evidence to the Commission were to be regarded as disclosable to the parties, if it was likely to have a material effect on the Commission's decision?
  (Mr McQuillan) In terms of our advice being disclosable, probably not. If we then had to expose the basis of that advice, quite clearly on lots of occasions yes, because some of that advice is derived from intelligence and that would be intelligence about, for example, the intent of paramilitary organisations to organise or exploit that particular event. Not in every circumstance would that cause a problem but in some circumstances that could cause us a problem.

Mr Clarke

  251. I wonder if you would bear with me a little bit while I follow up Mr Burgon's question. In recent evidence from the Apprentice Boys there was a lot of confusion about whether or not you are presenting evidence or advice because it was seen as if the determination was made upon evidence provided from the RUC, and yet in a later letter the second term was used and it had been watered down to "advice". Do you accept that this could lead to criticism from those that seek to parade if they cannot determine whether or not you are putting forward an opinion based on advice or whether or not you are putting forward hard evidence as to why a parade should not proceed?
  (Mr McQuillan) We operate within the procedural rules of the Commission. As I say, in the past we have both been quite lax in terms of the way we have phrased things. There is a legal issue about what the nature of the Parades Commission pleadings are. Quite frankly I do not feel that I am competent to judge that. It may be a matter that is ultimately determined in the courts at some stage. In terms of the nature of the material that we are providing to the Commission, in the vast majority of cases that will be in the nature of the professional opinion of police officers on issues that are directly relevant to the decision and which the Commission will consider in conjunction with the opinion of others and material from the AOs and submissions from marchers and protest groups. It would not be material that I would normally regard as evidential. Some of it would be fact, for example, that a parade broke the conditions last time, but most of it would not be of that nature. Most of it would be of a judgemental nature.

  252. Ultimately, should the RUC disagree with the Commission's determinations, you do have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes, sir.

  253. In your memorandum it was quoted that it is significant that today the Royal Ulster Constabulary has not deemed it necessary to invoke the operation of these provisions.
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes.

  254. Could you explain for our benefit why you think that is significant?
  (Mr McQuillan) I think that is significant because it demonstrates a broad confidence by us in the system. I am quite happy to say that our judgements are not always the same judgements as the Parades Commission's. They do not always follow our advice or our evidence. That sometimes, as has been alluded to in other questions, has significant resource consequences for us. It has a significant impact on the way we are required to deal with certain parades, but I think that overall it is an indication that the system generally can work and is also an indication that we are doing everything we can to help make the system work.

  255. I did notice earlier on you did say—and quite rightly so—that the Commission do not always accept your views.
  (Mr McQuillan) No, sir, they do not.

  256. Could you see that you could be open to criticism from some who would suggest that the Commission may be giving undue weight to the RUC's input when making its decisions?
  (Mr McQuillan) Yes. All I can say is that when I go down to give advice to the Commission I am quizzed quite heavily, I am asked to justify, my officers are asked to justify. It is clear to us that that has been, because of the nature of the questioning, weighed against material that has been provided by others or submissions from others. It is not a cosy relationship. I would not describe it as that in any way. It is a professional relationship and we give professional advice.

  257. Going back to comments you made earlier about those that wish to present to you the fact that they are to parade or protest and you said quite clearly that they would need to present to an officer above the rank of sergeant their intention to parade or protest, what practical steps do you take to make it as easy as possible for people to give notice of public processions and/or protests?
  (Mr McQuillan) The forms are widely available. They can be handed in at any police station. If there was not a sergeant on duty when they came to the police station we would make arrangements for a sergeant to see them and pick up the forms. We are completely open in this. We have no interest in restricting this in any way. If people contact us for advice we would refer them to the Parades Commission, and there are the Parades Commission booklets which we make available through our stations, and we do everything we can to assist people to comply. I have to say that a lot of people organising parades are quite ignorant of and do not understand the requirements, particularly with a lot of voluntary organisations. We do everything that we can to help them and to educate them in the process.

  258. Do you foresee that there could be a problem particularly with some small rural stations in an officer or sergeant not being there? What could you do in those circumstances to make sure that it was as easy as possible?
  (Mr McQuillan) There is a statutory requirement that it has to be handed to a sergeant. I would expect that in most of those areas if someone walked into a police station and wanted to hand in a parade notice and there was no sergeant, they would not just be told to go away. Either a sergeant would be called or, if that was impossible, we would probably make arrangements to see them. It is in our interests to collect them as quickly as possible and we have a good relationship with the community and the vast majority of groups in Northern Ireland and we would want to get those parade notices in and to help people in that no matter who they are and what the notices are.

Mr Barnes

  259. What steps does the RUC take as a matter of routine to analyse and monitor parades in respect of which it has made an input to the Parades Commission to see what the final outcome is?
  (Mr McQuillan) We keep a certain amount of statistical information, sir, which has been provided today. There are two levels of this. At the level of the individual parade we keep careful records of what has happened with each parade and that then feeds the next stage of the process for the next parade in that area by that group. That is one level. At another level Northern Ireland wide each year we go through the processes that have gone on with our entire tactical deployments, the way parades have gone on, hour systems have worked, and we analyse those and try to look at how we can do things better this year and next year. Inspector McGarry in that context has just completed an audit of how our relationship with the Parades Commission is working, how the new forms are working, and we have looked at that across the entire spectrum of that relationship. We have looked at that against what is known at the European Foundation Quality Model and we have come up with a number of issues out of that in terms of the quality of training we give people, the degree of understanding there is within the organisation of the requirements and so on. We organise it on all those different levels.

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