Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  This paper provides guidance on the remit and recommendations of the NIO's recent review of the arrangements for handling contentious parades by the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland.


  2.  The review of the Parades Commission was announced by Dr Mowlam on 8 October 1999. Its remit was:

    "Within the existing framework of law and structures, and taking account of views received from interested parties and the experience of the marching seasons over the last two years, to consider:

      —  possible ways of achieving even greater acceptance of the approach to handling contentious parades; and, in particular;

      —  the arrangements for mediation".

  3.  This was an internal review, conducted by officials of the NIO who, as required by their terms of reference, reported to the Secretary of State. The review's recommendations were published in the Secretary of State's statement of 16 February. No formal report was issued.

  4.  The review concluded that:

    —  the Commission had achieved many of its objectives in encouraging local agreement wherever possible. This had contributed greatly to the improved atmosphere in the past two marching seasons. But the Commission itself wanted to do even better;

    —  the Commission could do more to heighten awareness of mediation, including its own network of local "authorised officers". It could also provide a guide on all forms of third party intervention in parades issues, including a list of those willing to help;

    —  the Commission might also seek to expand its public visibility and understanding of its roles through more media activity, better exploitation of the internet and a CD-ROM pack for schools;

    —  acceptance of the Commission's determinations could be further improved if the reasoning behind them were set out in more detail in published determinations;

    —  the Commission has placed increasing weight on the importance of "engagement" by both sides when making decisions on contested parades. It might consider using its next annual report to give further guidance on how it will assess engagement in practice; and

    —  all sides in the debate have emphasised the underlying rights at stake. The Government would assist in clarifying these by bringing forward the implementation of the Human Rights Act in respect of decisions on contested parades. This would enable either side to rely on any of their Convention rights when challenging in court decisions by the Commission or Secretary of State under the Public Processions Act. The aim would be to ensure implementation in this area in time for this year's marching season.


  5.  On receipt of the review's findings, the Secretary of State engaged in further consultation. The Human Rights Act already applied to devolved matters, as in Scotland and Wales. It will apply to reserved and excepted matters from 2 October. A number of bodies expressed reservations about the human rights recommendation, and the Secretary of State is considering the proposals in the light of the consultation exercise and will make a further announcement shortly.

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