Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
TRIMBLE, MLA, MP, AND
440. Given the fact that the police now have
to make their decisions in accordance with the Human Rights legislation
do you really think, given that situation, there is any need for
a Commission? Could there be a conflict at times between the two
(Mr Trimble) The Commission itself should be operating
with due regard to the Human Rights Act and with due regard, I
would hope, to the existing extensive body of jurisprudence under
the European Convention; if it were doing so that would present
a different approach. If that was happening, it would not be a
problem. If you ask me what I would prefer to see, I would prefer
to see a radically different structure.
Chairman: I have one question I want to put
to the First Minister before we conclude. Let me verify, does
any other member of the Committee have any supplementaries they
want to ask?
441. In football it is often the person who
retaliates who gets the red card, then the perpetrator might merely
get a ticking off. Do you feel that the reaction by marchers to
controls on Drumcree in particular have often been over the top
as to why there is a red card attitude towards them?
(Mr Trimble) Obviously there is an element of that
in what happened in 1998. One of the tragedies of this issue is
that it got embroiled with the general political ferment that
existed here in Northern Ireland in the summer of 1998. That is
something from my own feelings that I became conscious of and
conscious of the extent to which some unsavoury elements were
trying to exploit the issue for their own particular reasons.
One recalls the much publicised visits of certain gentlemen to
Drumcree last summer, where some elements were trying to exploit
the issue. The District have done their best to distance themselves
from that situation. However, they cannot prevent people trying
to exploit the issue and this has made the issue much more difficult.
I think your analogy with football is quite apt in this case.
442. What do you feel now you can do in those
sort of circumstances as First Minister in order to try and assist
any protests about what you feel are unfortunate decisions, that
are peaceful and confined within their time scale?
(Mr Trimble) As I have done over the course of the
last couple of years, right back to 1998, indeed in terms of earlier
problems, I have done what I can to encourage people to keep the
law and not to engage in violent retaliation, to try and find
a peaceful way of resolving the issue. Unfortunately, even though
I am First Minister when we have these issues I am a bystander
on the matter with only a power to urge and try to persuade. It
is not much consolation for me that the Secretary of State is
in no better position.
443. Just returning to Mr Thompson's questions,
when he mentioned the Human Rights Act, I think it has also been
mentioned, if not by yourself but by many others, that many of
the decisions that the Commission make could so easily have been
made by the police service. Is there not an argument that would
suggest that if that is so, then surely a secondary body to take
on that duty simply frees up more time for the police service
to carry out their day-to-day operations. I repeat what I am saying,
in terms of new staff and the Northern Ireland Police Service,
is this not just the sort of duty that it would be suggested could
be favourable to having a secondary body looking at it, to let
them concentrate on their day-to-day business and duties?
(Mr Trimble) I think I understand the point you are
making. It does not actually free up their time to deal with other
things. The decision-making on a particular application absorbs
the time and resources of a significant number of police officers.
If that could be done at a higher level, that would involve some
time there, but I do not think that would be entirely significant.
It was the case, particularly in 1996, that senior police officers
were saying that they disliked a situation where they found themselves
stuck in the middle between two groups, that whatever decision
they took there had to be a better way of dealing with the issue.
The better way of dealing with the issue that emerged has not
made the lives of the police any easier, they are still in the
same position of being stuck between two groups. The fact that
the police have not directly taken the decision this time does
not really confer any benefit. I think we have a problem. The
problem, at the end of the day, comes back to the issue. While
I think that some elements have clearly come to exploit the issue
and to raise the profile of this issue, there is an issue. We
are also back to the legislative framework, that because it is
public order related it confers an incentive on either side bringing
the greater force to bear. The legislative structure and the rewards
for whoever produces brings forward a greater force. The only
escape from that situation is to try and have a law based approach
which focuses on rights, and even that might be difficult to operate.
Therein I think lies the future, a hope for the future. The main
hope for the future is trying to create a situation where popular
tension is defused, and that comes back to promoting greater understanding.
444. In respect of your involvement with the
negotiations in Drumcree, if the RUC had been responsible do you
think, given the evidence, they would have come up with any different
determination, other than to allow the march to take place?
(Mr Trimble) I did myself think in 1998, in the run
up to 1998, I thought this would hold true for the Parades Commission.
Anybody who looked at 1997, when the decision-making power rested
with the Secretary of State, the then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam
decided not to interfere with the parade and let the parade proceed.
It did so proceed. While there was some medial difficulties, the
level of tension of conflict in the community was significantly
less than it had been in 1996 when we started. The position in
1995/1996, arising first from a decision by a senior police officer
at the scene and the second time the decision was taken in advance
to that, if one compares the difficulties that there was on the
ground then with the problems in 1997 it seems to me that was
the rational way forward, as clearly pointed out. Yes, if the
decision had rested with the police and the Secretary of State
there will be occasions, as there was in 1996, and, of course,
that goes right back through all of the public order we have had
cases going back throughout the century and the previous century
and efforts and were made to deal with this issue. I can say that
my knowledge goes right back to 1883, the Parties Procession Act
which was a failure. We were there before.
445. First Minister, the first of my supplementary
questions will appear a little wide of the subjects we have been
discussing, but you will appreciate the majority of this Committee
is from Great Britain and, therefore, one of our needs is to make
sure we have a cultural understanding of the issues which we are
dealing with. The Police Community Consultative Groups came in
in Great Britain following Lord Scarman's Report on the riots
in Brixton. At least, speaking from my own constituency, we now
have three in different parts. They are now being broken down
into sector working parties. I would like to say, at least so
far as my constituency is concerned, they work well. We did take
evidence from the Police Community Consultative Group on our RUC
Report and I could not help noticing what I appreciate are foreign
powers in Northern Ireland, for reasons we are all familiar, that
the Police Community Consultative Group in Northern Ireland was
not as, perhaps, advanced in subjects it was taking or the information
that the police were prepared to share as it would have been in
central London. Is that something which you would regard as predictable
and normal, and if you did think that, do you think it is likely
(Mr Trimble) The Community Police Liaison Committees
we have in Northern Ireland have done very valuable work and a
lot of good people are involved in that work. They are hampered
by the fact that they are not representative of society because
there are political parties that are reluctant and refuse to get
involved in that or to encourage people to be involved in that.
That would be one reason why the Police Community Consultative
Groups here are not as effective as they are across the water.
Furthermore, I can well understand that police would have been
reluctant to be engaged against the background of the terrorist
campaign, with the importance of intelligence I can understand
that the police would be a lot more cautious in their approach
to that than would be the case across the border, because we do
not have quite the same problem in terms of processions. That
may even reflect a wider understanding or approach by the police,
where they are more concerned to protect their information and
the integrity of relations. This is something that I hope we will
change. It is changing already in Northern Ireland because of
the different context. We are now operating it and one is delighted
to see further developments occurring in it. If we may, there
are many parts of Great Britain where we have exactly the same
problem as elsewhere. I did have the pleasure of attending the
Lanarkshire Parade of the Orange Order, and they told me with
great pride they now thought they were bigger than Belfast. My
own view is they have not quite achieved that yet.
446. My first question was a paving question
for my second question, by chance, and it is a matter of total
coincidence, my constituency must be marched over more often than
any other constituency in the country and, perhaps, outside Northern
Ireland, simply because of its centrality and the fact that Trafalgar
Square is within it. People who are going to meet in Trafalgar
Squareand to get to Trafalgar Square sometimes they come
from the other side of the river, but nevertheless my constituency
is the heart of itthe police are in charge of those marches
and they work closely with the organisers of the marches as to
what the routes are and what the rules are going to be. They are
also using the Public Order Act of 1936 and the subsequent Act
of the 1980s. Sometimes things go wrong. Historically the Home
Secretary, who was the Police Authority until 12 months ago, has
had the power to intervene. I am not absolutely certain, but I
am sure there is a relationship between his powers and the new
Police Authorities in the new circumstances. There has always
been the Home Secretary standing behind the Metropolitan Police
in terms of their own decisions and determinations. What all that
leads up to is the Assistant Chief Constable of the RUC when giving
evidence to us indicated so far as the RUC were concerned they
were content, I think it would be fair to say, that the determination,
the role of determination has been taken out of their hands and
that their responsibility might be to render advice. Their responsibility
was to police the events without having to take the critical decisions.
Do you want to make any comment on that before we close our session?
(Mr Trimble) I have touched on this earlier. This
was a view very strongly expressed by some police officers in
1996, they wanted, as it were, somebody else to take the decision
for them. That responsibility has been taken from them police
now and moved somewhere else. I do not want this to sound too
critical, I am not sure if handing overI would be happy
to see the responsibility go elsewherethe police are not,
to some extent, reneging on their duty. It is not an easy thing
to do and it is not an easy function to discharge. Insofar as
there is an expertise in the matter it rests more with the police
and with the Secretary of State and the people advising him in
terms of dealing with the policing issues and the political issues
that are there. It is conceivable that if the responsibility is
moved from the Secretary of State and the police to another group
of people those people would eventually have the same level of
expertise in policing issues and political issues that exist with
regard to the police and the Secretary of State and manifestly
the present Parades Commission does not have that nor does it
have the accountability that is there. While the Chief Constable
is not directly accountable to the public there is a degree of
accountability that is there in terms of his accountability to
the Police Authority or whatever the arrangements are to replace
that. Of course the Secretary of State is politically accountable.
We are dealing with policing functions and political functions.
It is important that they be accountable. If the matter is handed
over, yes, police officers may feel they do not have to show responsibility
but the responsibility is to exercise without the accountability,
and I think that is a better position.
Chairman: I am sure I speak on behalf of whole
Committee, First Minister, for our appreciation to you not only
for coming to give evidence but for the evidence you have given
and the manner in which you have given it. We are extremely grateful