Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Rt Hon David Trimble MLA, MP

  When HMG first proposed the establishment of a Parades Commission, I and the Ulster Unionist Party advised against it. My view then, and reinforced now after witnessing the Parades Commission in operation for nearly four years, is that it was an exercise in Government abandoning its responsibility for maintaining law and order. Under the legislation Government transferred important powers to the Commission and did so in terms that favoured anti-parades objectors and in a manner which prevented Government taking action itself in the event of things going wrong. The establishment of the Parades Commission was a concession to the threat of violent protest. It created a grievance factory for politically motivated residents' groups and has led, in areas where such groups have been targeted, to an atmosphere of intolerance and appeasement of the greater threat.

The Parades Commission has singularly failed to be representative of the general community in Northern Ireland. The first Commission contained only token representation of the unionist community with little representation of the tradition of the marching Orders. Sadly, the review and recruitment of the second Commission saw no improvement.

  My experience of the work of the Parades Commission has been dominated by my involvement in seeking to resolve the Drumcree situation. As Member of Parliament and Assembly Member for Upper Bann, and latterly as First Minister, I have actively promoted initiatives and participated in initiatives to resolve this difficult issue. I will be happy to detail those initiatives for the benefit of the Committee.

  Regrettably, I had to conclude, in the Summer of 1999, that despite intensive efforts by Portadown District LOL No 1, encouraged by myself and my office, that Portadown District would never receive a fair hearing from the Parades Commission. I believe this view was increasingly being shared by HMG, and accordingly I secured a commitment to review the workings of the Parades Commission.

  It is a matter of regret that those in charge of the Review did not use the opportunity to make such change to the Commission's operation as to lead to it becoming acceptable to the entire community, and that it failed to amend the Act to reflect the right to assemble and process peacefully.

  I have continued my efforts in respect to Drumcree and have fully liaised and engaged with the new Commission. I regret that they continue to make the same mistakes as their predecessors. I firmly believe that the Commission operates in effect with a prejudice against the Loyal Orders in general and Portadown District LOL No 1 in particular. This is partly because the legal framework is wrong. The parading problems will not be resolved for as long as the Commission continues to provide a parading veto for residents' groups who threaten violence.

  I welcome this Committee's interest in the Parades Commission and hope that it might prepare a report that will lead to fundamental change.

1 February 2001

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