Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
380. Do you think there is any possibility that
there might be a risk in perception of seeing the changes, implying
a more direct involvement of the Commission in mediation?
(Mr McAllister) There might be, yes, because anything
that happens in the parades conflict is of interest to those who
are engaged with it. On the other hand, we have our own relationships
with the people on various sides and we will certainly continue
to be transparent about our thinking on this matter. Obviously,
we are speaking publicly here today.
381. Who is responsible for assessing the effectiveness
of The Mediation Network?
(Mr McAllister) The way our work is organised, it
is organised into a number of programmes. I was naming them at
the start. There is a community programme, a churches programme,
etc. Within each programme there are a number of projects. We
build evaluation and assessment into those. Aside from that, the
Community Relations Council commissions an independent evaluator
on a three year basis to come and appraise our work. Some of the
work in itself is subject to very stringent assessment, for instance,
some of the work in policing where the State Department have funded
our activities there and they will always send someone from the
States to conduct an evaluation of what we have been doing.
(Mr Campbell) We also have a board of management as
well which holds staff to account.
382. Besides carrying out the mediation role
in relation to parades disputes, Authorised Officers also gather
information about parades taking place within their assigned areas
and report to the Commission. Is there any risk of a conflict
of interest between these two duties in that parties may feel
that the officers are getting involved in steps that may lead
to determinations at the same time as they are promoting mediation?
(Mr McAllister) Yes, there is, Mr Beggs, and again
experience has taught us that. We believe that the body of Authorised
Officers are people of integrity; otherwise we would not be willing
to work with them. However, we appreciate that mistakes have been
made at times and it is very easy to make mistakes even visibly
out in the street on a parade perhaps, spending too long talking
to one particular person and then being viewed by opponents of
that person as maybe just too friendly with them, but these are
perceptions. We realise that in practice it has been more difficult
to have people feel confident in the integrity of Authorised Officers.
That is why we have recommended to the Parades Commission now
that they take away from the Authorised Officers the duty of monitoring
parades and indeed appoint casual labour to go along to parades
and monitor the parades and submit their reports to all sides
so that there is a greater transparency and that will mitigate
383. Do all parades disputes have essentially
the same characteristics and, if so, what are they, or are there
different types? If the latter, what are the various types and
what are their similarities and differences respectively?
(Mr McAllister) Again that is a question that I would
like to reflect on and respond to you in writing, if you would
Can I say very basically though that where parades are a problem
in Northern Ireland it is either in places where the relationship
between members of the Unionist tradition and the members of the
Nationalist tradition has broken down or where that relationship
was never right. I would suggest that in Portadown for instance
the relationship has never been as healthy as it needs to be or,
indeed, that it has never been right, whereas on the Ormeau Road
in Belfast the relationship has broken down. In some areas there
was always a consensus enjoyed between the two traditions about
parades. In others there never was. In some places therefore sorting
the problem out involves restoring that level of agreement or
tolerance or consensuality. In other areas it means establishing
it for the first time.
(Mr Campbell) A quick answer to Mr Beggs
is that some parades are band parades where they are not organised
by any of the Loyal Orders, and some of these band parades are
fine and some of them are a problem. Other parades obviously are
organised by the Loyal Orders and they become a problem because
of the particular band that has been engaged for that particular
parade sometimes, and sometimes not. I think it would be important
to say that the Loyal Orders have taken steps in the past couple
of years in respect of bad behaviour in bands, and there is still
some way to go on that, but they certainly have been addressing
that and that is a sign of hope.
384. I wonder if I could start by asking you
to expand on comments that you made in the memorandum in respect
of reservations that both the RUC and the Northern Ireland Office
officials have as to the work and operation of the Parades Commission?
Could you say a little bit about what evidence you have had to
suggest that those reservations were there?
(Mr McAllister) Again I cannot speak for either of
those bodies, obviously. My view is formed by my experience of
working at the problem. It would therefore be my perception. I
offer a perception to you rather than anything involving empirical
evidence. My view would be that the parades tradition in our society
has at various times over the generations been a matter of contention.
Therefore, historically, in terms of public order policing, there
has been a tradition and an experience gained by the police about
dealing with this problem. Therefore, when the Parades Commission
was formed it was a new concept, a new body, run by citizens who
were new to the problem, into a situation where in the areas with
the most difficult parades problems in Northern Ireland the most
seasoned RUC commanders were dealing with it, people who had experience.
In addition, they had a network of relationships, very often with
all sides. People on various sides of the parades conflict would
have had a disinclination to start dealing with, if you like,
"the new kids on the block" and preferred to deal with
the police either because they trusted them or because they viewed
them as the devil they knew. Similarly, within the Northern Ireland
Office; Governments have always been very conscious of the political
significance of the parades conflict and therefore some of their
most senior civil servants have taken an interest or been tasked
to take an interest in this matter. Again, these are people who
have had a professional interest in the matter. To put a body
of citizens new to the problem alongside two groups of seasoned
players was an ambitious thing to do and in my view it has taken
a few years for the idea of the Commission to be properly understood
and indeed for the Commission itself to begin to mature.
385. During those years do you think those doubts
and reservations have interfered with the work of the Commission
or made it more difficult for the Commission to find a base because
those reservations were widely known and were perhaps considered
by those who were taking part in mediation?
(Mr McAllister) Yes.
386. I do not know if the Network has an assessment
of the Northern Ireland Office review of the work of the Commission
that took place just before the appointment of the latest Commissioners.
Do you think that was a helpful review considering the short period
in which the Commission has been operating?
(Mr McAllister) There were a number of difficulties
surrounding that review. First of all, the review came in as part
of an expectation among the Orange tradition, that the review
would actually produce a very significant substantial change.
They were therefore disappointed when it did not and felt let
down. On the Nationalist side, setting up the review had the opposite
effect. It lessened confidence and destabilised things there.
In the event the review affirmed the lines along which the Commission
had already been established, but what it also said was that there
was a need to promote greater understanding of its various functions.
I would have to say that I do not think that has yet happened.
387. Finally, taking you back to the written
memorandum, within it there is a line where you state that the
task of mediation is to assist citizens to restore or to create
a social order within which parades are not a matter of contention.
This is a long process of relationship building. Given the comments
that have already been made, rightly so, about the historic baggage
that there is on both sides, do you really think that that task
is achievable either on a particular timescale or at all at a
time when parades are a matter of contention?
(Mr McAllister) Again I also say in this document
that mediators and mediation do not solve conflicts. They make
a contribution to the management or resolution of conflicts. The
main people who sort out conflicts are the protagonists in the
conflict. Sometimes people who are viewed as the most extreme
elements are to the fore in that regard. Therefore, people should
have a more realistic expectation of the role of mediators. Mediators
provide assistance to it and unfortunately in the public mind
there has been, through some of the, shall we say, personality
mediators of the world, from Henry Kissinger to George Mitchell,
a public perception that there are magical, wizard characters,
people who come and wave wands and work their magic, but it does
not work like that. Mediators should be performing a task but
the primary tasks are being performed by those in the conflict.
If I can answer your question against that background, for me
to take a view that mediation is going to sort this conflict or
that conflict is in a sense to adopt a pre-determined agenda.
It is more important for our integrity to keep a completely open
mind but we retain a conviction that at the heart of the parades
problem are misunderstandings and conflicting expectations about
society and we believe that one important useful task that mediators
can fulfil is to enable people to improve their understandings
of the others' views and to communicate with each other about
their differences. If they choose to reach conclusions in terms
of resolution, that must be entirely up to them.
388. If I were trying to mediate and present
an acceptable line in your memorandum, would it be better for
me to put, "We look forward to a day when parades are less
a matter of contention" rather than "not a matter of
contention"? Would you accept that that would be a more foreseeable
outcome rather than them not being a contention; to be less contentious?
(Mr McAllister) I would not put it like that. I can
imagine some people I know in the Orange tradition feeling a little
bit sensitive about that kind of perspective because they would
say, "They are not matters of contention really. This is
a fabricated dispute." That is their view. One has to speak
about these matters in ways that include the differing perspectives
of what this problem is about.
389. If you think it is a fact of life that
the Parades Commission has failed to win the confidence and co-operation
of the Loyal Orders, what has gone wrong? How did the situation
(Mr McAllister) I think it goes back to the creation
of the Commission. The Loyal Orders gave a view to Government
about what kind of body could administer the parades conflict
and it was one that should address cultural differences generally
in Northern Ireland, wider than simply the parading tradition,
and although government appeared at the time to be prepared to
set up such a body with a wide ranging remit on matters of contention
around culture, in the end it came down in favour of one specifically
for parades. Therefore, in my view the custodians of the parading
tradition viewed the Commission as an anti-parades Commission
from the start, something set up to exercise control and constriction
of their tradition. They found it very difficult to trust the
idea of it. Of course historically, because the Commission has
at times engendered suspicion and loss of confidence on all sides,
depending on its last decision, in a sense the Parades Commission
is as popular with any one side as its most recent decision. If
the Parades Commission decides, say, against the Nationalist tradition
in one area, then the Nationalists will be sore with it for a
while. Of course it is the case that the last Parades Commission
and this one have in a sense ruled against the Orange Order on
the matter of Drumcree and on a matter of central importance to
them. It is difficult therefore for Orangemen to view the Commission
as an organisation with good intent towards them. However, I believe
that that simply illustrates the thankless task of a Parades Commission.
I do believe that it is not so much a body that people will like
or love but rather one that people will come to terms with and
in time come to find a way to work with. I have to say that there
is a pressing need around these three issues for which the Parades
Commission is responsible for them to promote a clear public understanding
of what they are about. Number one: it needs to define its view
of the parades conflict in a way that all sides can say, "We
can identify with that". It also needs then to try and engender
enough trust out there to get the co-operation of people, in particular
from the broad Unionist tradition to help promote education and
understanding about the parading tradition. Of course, within
that one would hope for a degree of co-operation from the Orange
Order. I have to say though that because the Orange Order have
boycotted the Commission from its inception it has not been able
to discharge primary fundamental aspects of its work, especially
around education, and it is also having so often to second-guess
the mind of the Orange Order because it cannot meet directly with
Orange brethren to ask them.
390. Is not the position extremely gloomy then?
How can the Parades Commission embark on its education programme
in the light of what is already the baggage it is carrying with
it of (in your words) offending both communities alternately?
(Mr McAllister) There is a point on page 6 of my submission
that the parades problem has a number of important dimensions
to it. I believe that the Parades Commission should initiate activity
within each of these dimensions. There are religious dimensions,
there are political aspects to it which politicians should talk
to each other about. There are public order issues which involve
police. There are social economic issues which involve business
people; there are primarily communal difficulties, and the parades
problem is at heart a communal problem. The Parades Commission
could promote greater understanding of these dimensions rather
than it just being seen in a one dimensional way.
391. Let us move on. Your memorandum implicitly
criticises, and you did yourself earlier today, government inspired
(Mr McAllister) Yes.
392. If I understand you correctly, what you
are arguing is that government has been out of step with the realities
on the ground or has been driven by external difficult considerations.
Can you tell me what specific initiatives you have in mind that
have been unfortunate in these respects?
(Mr McAllister) I have submitted to the secretariat
here a copy of the report which I wrote for the previous Parades
Commission a year ago. It sets out my views on the various Drumcree
crises in that regard and the various initiatives that have been
held. I have to say I totally understand why government would
feel a responsibility to take a direct involvement in a matter
such as the parades dispute, but I think that the evidence shows
that such intervention has been ineffective. It has been ineffective
principally because government does not approach this problem
with the requisite perspectives or skills base of a conflict intervener.
You can look at some of the initiatives that were set up that
were being called mediation, and they would not in my view conform
to base line requirements of professional mediators. That is because
they were well intentioned but not conducted all the time or designed
by mediators. In other words, a regular problem of the government
led initiatives was a lack of design, a lack of preparation, what
we call "case development". They were very often cobbled
together very quickly at the eleventh hour at a time of crisis
when each side would find it most difficult to engage the other.
One of the things that they have failed to do throughout is address
the sense of integrity that each side must protect if they are
to go into communication with each other. All these matters require
a lot of careful construction. There needs to be an agreed aim,
there needs to be an agreed agenda, and the aim needs to be one
that leaves both sides feeling that they can engage in this process
without compromising their integrity.
393. That presupposes they want to.
(Mr McAllister) That is their choice, yes.
394. You also say that the Parades Commission
has been too deferential to these initiatives, and obviously Drumcree
you have in mind. Are there other instances that you could point
to where the Parades Commission has been too deferential to government?
(Mr McAllister) No. It is specifically in relation
to Drumcree which in a sense has defined the parades conflict
395. And you would not look, for instance, to
the Apprentice Boys and their community in that context at all?
(Mr McAllister) I do not have that in mind.
396. The memorandum comments on the public expectation
for more immediate outcomes. What risk is there that the search
for quick fixes may in fact delay the emergence of a sound long
term accommodation or, better still, resolution of the underlying
(Mr McAllister) Mr Beggs, in fact your observation
follows logically from the encounter I have just had with your
colleague, Mr Hunter. That is precisely the difficulty here, that
very often in our experience we have been approaching people on
either side of the parades problem who feel they have "done
mediation". However, the problem is that there is a need
to design conflict intervention very carefully, very thoroughly,
and therefore last-minute quick fix initiatives do not allow for
the necessary groundwork to be done. There is a Chinese saying
that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
You can reverse that when it comes to mediation: a journey of
a single step begins with a thousand miles, and very often steps
have been taken without the miles being travelled first.
397. At one time there was an expectation that
those organising the parades or processions would be required
to show evidence of training. Has there been any funding set aside
by the Community Relations Council or provision made to offer
to better equip and train those organising parades to avoid dispute
(Mr McAllister) There are two matters of interest
there. The Parades Commission has funded training for monitors,
stewards, around the Apprentice Boys' parades and the Community
Relations Council is currently involved with the County Down Grand
Lodge of the Orange Order on a community development strategy
which they are supporting. The purpose of that strategy within
County Down is to identify the social functions which Orange Lodges
serve in local communities and to affirm the development of those
functions as part of the framework of local communities in parts
of County Down.
398. Has there been any outreach to cope with
any perception that the heightened number of conflict situations
which have arisen were part of another political campaign?
(Mr McAllister) Quite obviously that is a widely held
view in Northern Ireland and it is one that is of particular annoyance
to people within the parading orders. Of course it makes it doubly
difficult then to promote interaction between opposing sides on
399. I would like to deal with a couple of practical
issues first and then I will come to the issue more of policy
and principle. In your memorandum you have referred to the Authorised
Officers and your proposal seems to be that in April of this year
they should be handed over and put under the control of the secretariat.
How effective have they been so far? Is this in some way a recognition
that maybe they have not been very effective?
Chairman: I should intervene to say we have
covered some of that already, but the question is totally apt.
(Mr McAllister) Mr Robinson, we are very satisfied
with the progress that the Authorised Officer team have made up
to now. One has to recognise that they have been dealing with
a situation where they are in a sense consular representatives
in localities of Northern Ireland, representatives of the Parades
Commission, a body which as a matter of policy within the Orange
tradition Orange brethren are not meant to engage with, so they
have in a sense been going along at a huge disadvantage trying
to address the expression of a conflict on the ground where people
feel that they cannot engage very deeply with Authorised Officers
because they are identified with the Parades Commission. That
has been the biggest single inhibition to the development of their
work to date.
1 See also Ev p 135. Back