Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 417)



  400. On that issue, I cannot see any way of getting to that point, if I can be fairly blunt on it. What is the pedigree of the Authorised Officers? Is there sufficient diversity amongst their ranks?
  (Mr McAllister) We have been very careful to ensure that they are a team of male and female, Catholic and Protestants and also people who in their family backgrounds would identify with the parading tradition. In terms of their pedigree, to use that term, we would not ever envisage them being highly "professional" full time mediators. We think that they are more of value as citizens with concern and a degree of skill and competence sufficient to do their task.

  401. Let me hone it down a little further. Whether they are male, female, Protestant or Catholic perhaps does not get right down to it. The problem which you have identified is one of a lack of trust between the marching orders and the Parades Commission among those who act on their behalf. Are there people within the ranks of the Authorised Officers that the Loyal Orders could identify with? That goes beyond the fact that they may be Protestant.
  (Mr Campbell) How do you understand "identify with"?

  402. I am wondering how diverse are they? Are there people who might be members of these Orders amongst the Authorised Officers?
  (Mr Campbell) There are people on the Authorised Officers team who have family members who have connections to the Orders, some of them.
  (Mr McAllister) But none who is a member.
  (Mr Campbell) None who is an active member.

  403. Is that prohibited?
  (Mr Campbell) No, it is not prohibited at all.
  (Mr McAllister) But you would appreciate, Mr Robinson, that no Orangeman for instance would be much inclined to take up a paid position with the Parades Commission.

  404. Let us look at the issue. Can you think of any government body that has been set up to deal with a dispute that does not have the confidence of the disputing parties? How can it work? It cannot work. Surely the most fundamental issue is how to address that, and that means a very basic change in the whole structure of the way the Parades Commission was set up, or we are going to have the continued problem of the stand-off between the Parades Commission and those that they are dealing with?
  (Mr Campbell) The biggest challenge for the parading tradition is not to engage with the Parades Commission. It is actually to engage with those who oppose the parades in certain localities, and if they did that and began to work at agreement on that then the Parades Commission in a sense would not have to be involved at all and the Loyal Orders' engagement with the Commission would become irrelevant.
  (Mr McAllister) I would want also to respond to what you said by agreeing with you that the confidence deficit is a major inhibition to the effectiveness of the Parades Commission. However, I was saying to Mr Hunter that historically the Commission has been seen by many Orange brethren as a body set up without their good intent in mind. That is how it is perceived by them. I am not stating that as a fact but rather that that perception is reality; that is a broadly held view, as you would know, within the parading tradition. The Parades Commission has to be imaginative in how it addresses that. I come back to another point I made in my submission where I identified four possible options for administering this problem. In my view a Parades Commission is the least worst option, so it is therefore a body that people will not naturally like but it is one that I believe in time they will come to take seriously and engage with because it is there.

  405. But at least they engage with the police.
  (Mr McAllister) Yes. People do not always like police officers or families dealing with social workers do not always like their job either.

  406. The Orangemen have not had a difficulty in talking to police officers.
  (Mr McAllister) That is right.

  407. So we now have a body that Nationalists can quite happily sit with but the marching orders cannot.
  (Mr McAllister) You are quite right; that is a huge problem. However, I have stated in my paper that in my view the police are not best suited to administer this problem or to resolve it. All that the police can do is police the parades problem. Its resolution will require engagement between those who are in opposition to each other, and a body of citizens who are publicly identifiable and are working to a set of publicly identified criteria, for me is the least worst option in this matter. I realise that there is a huge enduring confidence deficit. I believe however that in the fullness of time the parading tradition will come to identify the potential of the Parades Commission as a civic body that is not actually against the existence of parades. At the end of the day if you were to ask the Parades Commission, "Do you want to abolish the parading tradition in Northern Ireland?", it is on record as saying no; it wants to establish a firmer future for the parading tradition in our society and that is why I have also said in my report that it is important for the Parades Commission to make that point more clearly than it has done so far to the parading tradition in particular.

  408. Do you think it might help the engagement that you are craving if the residents' organisations were not putting forward convicted terrorists as representatives?
  (Mr McAllister) Again it is not the function of a mediator to form a judgment about who emerges on either side of a dispute. I would want to say as well that we do not actually "crave" outcomes. In your absence earlier I was trying to make the point that it is our perspective on this problem and many other aspects of division in Northern Ireland that we are talking about a cross-generational division and that many of the problems that you and we are working at in Northern Ireland we will not live to see settled. Many aspects of our division will take generations to sort out. In our view it is very important for our integrity that we do not chase this problem, making it move quicker than it is able to go. People will find ways to address each other when they are ready to do so.

  409. I do not think I was putting words in your mouth, Mr McAllister, but three times during just my questions you and Mr Campbell were proffering the view that engagement was the way forward.
  (Mr McAllister) Absolutely.

  410. That is why I was saying that you were craving that particular way forward. I wonder if I could look at the issue of your recommendation for some form of education, encouraging discussions, etc. Do you think that is going to resolve any of the issues at the heart of this?
  (Mr McAllister) Again it comes back to a point I made to Mr Clarke earlier. The activity of mediative actors in a conflict situation is not sufficient in itself to resolve anything. It simply makes a contribution to a range of activities that go on naturally in conflict that bring it to fruition. However, the role of that part of work for which we feel a responsibility, the activity of mediation, is to assist communication, improve understandings, support creative thinking, explore accommodations and, if people are ready to and want to, assist them to reach agreement. But it all the time puts the onus (and the power in a sense) in a conflict on the parties rather than take it on to itself.

  411. Can I put to you the conundrum that I have when I listen to your position? The Mediation Network—I rather imagine if you were sent to mediate and somebody said, "I do not want anything to do with you. We do not want to talk to you. We do not trust you. We do not like you. We do not believe you should be here", I guarantee you would say, "Look: we are not able to mediate in these circumstances." You do not seem to be recognising that the Parades Commission gets exactly that kind of reaction from the Loyal Orders but you seem to be quite content that it should go round there until they eventually thole it, to use the Ulster expression. You do not seem to see that it is not working, it cannot work with the major players in this and therefore we need to restructure; we need to have a fundamental change in the way we address this issue.
  (Mr McAllister) Mr Robinson, I have already tried to express a degree of acknowledgement about the validity of what you are saying here about the confidence deficit, about the historically negative relationship that is there between the parading Orders and the Commission, accept all those as realities. They are challenges for the Parades Commission. I am simply saying that I do not know of any better way to manage this problem than to have a body of citizens get to know a problem, be committed to it and seek to establish a firmer foundation in our society for the parading tradition than it has ever had. For me they are honourable civic aspirations which I cannot imagine anyone in the parading Orders having a difficulty with. I think that the difficulties are around suspicion about the agenda that was given to this Commission. It is seen as a body that is there to close down parades. Similarly, it is at times viewed with suspicion by people on the Nationalist side. It is very often viewed as a body that is not impervious to political influence and intervention or indeed it is not always seen by Nationalists as a body that will be prepared to take a different line from police concerns, for instance. There are difficulties on all sides in Northern Ireland around the idea of the Parades Commission. I have simply set out in my memorandum here three alternatives, none of which I believe would be as viable as this. In my view we have to take a long view of the parades dispute and of the work of mediation and recognise that a body of citizens administering a problem is going to make mistakes, is not necessarily going to perform all its functions well. I do accept that there is a need for improvement on those and I have made out the need for greater clarity around the three core functions, but again this is a problem that will take a long time to move on.

Mr Pound

  412. You have put forward a number of interesting ideas about how the work of the Commission might develop. Can I ask the low politician's question: to what extent would this require additional funding? Is it possible to give us a back of the envelope indication of the additional funding requirements for your expenditure?
  (Mr McAllister) There are significant funding difficulties, I have to say. For instance, over the past year our work within Newry and Mourne Council has not been funded. There is not funding there for it. There is a need for non-Parades Commission activity in the parades conflict because that would certainly make it a lot easier to uphold the integrity of mediation at times. As such there is no fund set aside in the public purse for that kind of activity. I do not have figures for it, I am afraid.

  413. But additional funding would be an essential concomitant with any development of the Commission's work?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes.

  414. I appreciate what you said earlier on about an element of self-generated funding, but that would always be a marginal component?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes. If the Commission is to create more opportunities for people with an interest in parades to come together, whether they are church people or indeed people on the ground, there are always costs with these. These events really have not been happening up until now for various good reasons, but when they do start to happen, as I believe they will eventually, then obviously costs will increase.

Mr Beggs

  415. Does the Mediation Network involve itself in a wider role beyond purely conflict which arises without parading and advising the Parades Commission?
  (Mr McAllister) Yes, Mr Beggs. As was said in our areas of work at the start of the session, that was really a reference to other types of mediation that we are engaged in. Briefly, we have been working at prisons issues over the years. We have been working at inter-neighbourhood conflict. We have been working also in assisting political dialogue between individuals across the parties. Obviously there is a degree of discretion involved in our work. Suffice it to say that across Northern Ireland society in various fields we have been engaged in mediation work since our formation.


  416. I have one tidying up question. Do you believe that the number of Authorised Officers is sufficient?
  (Mr Campbell) Yes. I think 12 Authorised Officers deployed in pairs around the Province is sufficient, but I think that the role we spoke of earlier for monitoring parades, not just contentious parades but also non-contentious parades, as a way of providing figures and education for the public needs to be expanded so there would be a place for a monitor-type role which we started last year with the Commission and which I think they want to expand on.

  417. We have covered a lot of ground during the course of the examination and you have covered a lot of ground too in response, which will certainly bear study in terms of the transcript. It may be that we want to come back with supplementary questions, as I said at the beginning, but in the meantime we are extremely grateful for the patience and diligence you have given to the questions.
  (Mr McAllister) Thank you for your interest.

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