Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2001
520. My last point under this heading: the Ulster
Bands Association tell me that they started to seek a meeting
with the Commission at the end of October and had no reply for
three months. They have now been given a tentative date of a meeting
for March 14th. Why did it take the Commission three months to
reply to a request for the meeting?
(Mr Holland) I cannot answer that question, I will
have to let you know in a written answer.
(Mr Cousins) If I can throw some light on that: because
of my background in education and youth development, I expressed
an interest to meet again with the Ulster Bands Association because
I think they do very positive work in the area of youth development,
apart from expressing part of that work through their culture.
We have offered them, as far as I am aware, through our officials
a number of times and dates and they have not been able to meet
those dates. For my part, as a person, one of the two Commissioners
who is going to meet them, I have said I will meet them at any
time, evening or during the day, or at any place. My understanding
now is that an arrangement has been made.
521. On a different front, one of the duties
of the Commission is to keep under review the operation of the
Public Processions Act 1998. How does the Commission do this?
What recommendations has the Commission made to the Secretary
of State in respect of its operations in the last 12 months?
(Mr Holland) This Commission has made no recommendations
to the Secretary of State over the last twelve months. As yet
we have not felt sufficiently informed to recommend anything in
terms of changing the legislation. We are actually going away
shortly, in fact next week, to look at this issue of whether we
believe there should be any amendments made to the legislation.
There are obviously a number of things that one could consider,
which may come out in questions later on. The Commission felt
at this stage, after only effectively 12 months, it would be premature
for us to say do this, do that. It is a very long haul, the nature
of an operation like this. There is a great temptation, if you
like in planting terms, to pull up the roots of plant to see how
it is growing. If you do that in the end the plant dies. The view
of the Commission at the moment is that there is nothing sufficiently
pressing for them to write to the Secretary of State about.
522. Automatically you would be keeping under
review the operation of the Act?
(Mr Holland) All of the time, I cannot say throughout
the summer months we are discussing the minutiae of how we are
operating. Certainly in the winter months we kept on meeting every
week, except for January, as a full Commission to discuss a variety
of issues, including the way in which we operate and whether we
can improve it, and so on.
Mr Hunter: Thank you very much.
523. Good afternoon, Mr Holland and gentlemen.
I think the second row is part of the Commission as well.
(Mr Holland) They are members of the staff who have
come along to assist. Mr Elliott is right behind me; the Secretary
of the Commission, who replaced David Hill, who replaced Heather
Robinson, who replaced Richard Buchanan. We have had four secretaries.
On his left is Dr Michael Boyle, who is the number two at the
Commission; next to him is Richard Gordon, who is the Commission's
media adviser and next to him is Deirdre Ward.
524. We are not a very good example, Mr Holland,
but your organisation does not seem to be gender proved either?
(Mr Holland) All I can say about that is I had no
hand in controlling the appointment of the Commission; that was
dealt with by the Secretary of State. As to the staff, I think
there are three men and five women.
525. You give the women the work. In part of
the response you gave to the Chairman, there was a reference to
the promotion of mediation. As you indicated in your remarks you
have now been in place for about 12 months. I wonder specifically
if you can tell us what steps the Commission has taken during
that 12 month period regarding the promotion and facilitation
of mediation where disputes are expected?
(Mr Holland) We have done an awful lot actually, sometimes
more than perhaps we should have done. We are arbitrators, of
course, we must not mediate and yet of course we have an inbuilt
nature, an inbuilt desire, to see mediation succeed. We have the
use of the Mediation Network of Northern Ireland and their Authorised
Officers act on our behalf in relation to different areas where
the parades take place. In fact we have made certain changes and
alterations in the structure in the way we work with them for
this forthcoming season. That is the background. We meet with
them every month collectively, both the Commission and all the
Authorised Officers, to keep up to date with what they are doing
on the ground. Also, we meet with a large number of people, again
I do not want to identify who they are in some cases because I
think it would be unhelpful to do so. There are two particular
areas where, of course, we realise that special efforts are required,
one is Portadown and the other is the Lower Ormeau. In relation
to the former, we spent some time in September devising a plan
which we thought might be able to help the appointed mediator,
Brian Curran, and we obviously passed that to him and in every
way support what he is trying to do with his own arrangements
in that context as well as what we have given to him. In relation
to Lower Ormeau, we had a different approach. Indeed, in the written
information you have been sent by Andrew Elliott, you will see
reference to the Avila Kilmurray meetings that took place between
the LOCC and the ABOD. You will recognise from David Hoey's evidence
on behalf of the ABOD that he thought that procedure was well
on the way to producing a solution. The minutes that I have sent
you, the extractthe last ten pages of the last set of minutes,
there are 1,100 pages to read, by the way, but I have only sent
you the last tenindicates that in fact that is not exactly
the impression you gather from reading those last ten pages. As
a result we thought "Well, this probably is not going to
work in relation to the Lower Ormeau" so we then appointed
two other persons extraneous to the previous exercise to see if
they could have any success. At the moment it does not look too
promising but we are not entirely bereft of hope. Those two people
were, it could be said, not mediators so much as negotiators.
I do not want to carry on about a semantic meaning of words here
because we were certainly pushing our luck, in a way. We were
trying to be different and we were trying to get an alternative
approach. The final thing, of course, was the terms of the decisions
themselves in relation to those two areas. In relation to the
Portadown area in July, we went to great lengths to write a far
different determination from that which had previously been written.
It was some 15 pages long and I followed up actually with a piece
in a newsletter two days afterwards trying to set out a route
map. That article, actually, went perilously close, I believe,
perhaps far closer than I ever intended for an arbitrator to be
doing. The same applies to the decision that was made about the
LOCC march and the ABOD march in the Lower Ormeau Road in August
where we again spelt out perhaps more than we should have done.
Those are our attempts to try and get progress made.
526. Could I explore how the Commission is discharging
one of the other functions you have, which is the duty to keep
yourselves generally informed in terms of the conduct of public
processions and protest meetings. How do you actually do that?
Is there a rota for members to go out to meetings? Do you have
meetings with the police about them? What way is it done?
(Mr Holland) There is not a formal rota. All members
of the Commission of course live here, with the exception of myselfand
I have referred to this in the written papers, I spend about 25
per cent of my time in Northern Ireland and only 15 per cent of
my time in Plymouth, I might addthey all go and meet people
within the Province. I myself also go out and talk to various
people within the Province. They all, myself included, have seen
parades over the past 12 months. I do not make a practice of going
to every parade, I think that would be unhelpful. Also, with the
Commission, I discuss the police reports that we get. We have
monitors in place now who inform us as well as to what happens,
as well as the meetings with the Authorised Officers. We spend
a considerable amount of time keeping ourselves informed. We need
to because, frankly, it is the nuances of what is happening, if
you like, on the ground which often come out perhaps only four
or five or perhaps ten days before a determination has to be made
which can change the whole approach. We can learn perhaps that
there is a serious chance that in fact something can happen by
consent in a particular area. We learn that from Authorised Officers,
from members of the Commission who are always informed of these
things, more than I am informed personally because, of course,
the other 60 odd per cent of my time I am in London.
527. I assume that the Commission will probably
be taking a closer watching brief in areas where at least there
might be some indication that there is greater controversy and
indeed where a determination has been issued to bury the request
for a parade or a protest meeting.
(Mr Holland) Yes. We have, I suppose, what someone
calls the five starred contentious areas where we know there are
certain problems which could arise. In that area we do, in fact,
make more effort to keep ourselves informed of change, because
it is so important, but we gradually minimise the number of areas
rather than see them increase.
528. When you apply a condition to a parade,
what is the mechanism that you employ to ensure that condition
has been kept?
(Mr Holland) The monitors are our primary source of
information, after the parade has taken place, as to whether there
has been a breach, as are the police reports. We put a condition
on a particular parade but we have no control over whether or
not the police then prosecute: they decide whether they want to
refer that to the DPP and obviously then the decision is made
by the DPP. I think I am not revealing any confidences if I say
that sometimes the Commission is concerned that some of the conditions
are not complied with and yet not a lot seems to happen, but we
have no control over that. The monitors, of course, keep us more
informed about that, it is not just the ultimate sanction. We
can, of course, look at the parade next time round and see what
happened but it is a bit difficult when you do that in terms of
what the "evidence" is as to what happened last time.
You have to be very careful you do not rely on hearsay.
529. It might be useful to say, just so that
we do not rely on hearsay, that it has been asserted to the Committee
that in the context of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community that
there is something of a contrived events scenario built up.
(Mr Holland) A contrived events scenario?
(Mr Holland) By the LOCC?
531. Which would coincide with the parades which
they are expecting to go down the Ormeau Road. For instance, it
was contended that the LOCC notified for Friday 11th August for
the purpose of unveiling a new mural. The application said that
2,000 people would participate and the march would last from 7.15
pm to 11.59 pm. Your determination, I understand, restricted it
to 7.15 pm to 8.00 pm. Can you tell us, did that take place? Did
2,000 people attend? Were the Commission representatives present?
Was a new mural unveiled?
(Mr Holland) I cannot tell you how many attended.
I want to be fairly circumspect about what I say about this particular
area at the moment because, of course, there is a probable determination
coming up which I want, if I can, to avoid discussing for obvious
reasons today in any way which would actually create problems.
As far as I am aware that parade, or that meeting, to unveil that
mural never took place. To specifically answer your question,
do I think things are contrived? Speaking for myself, in a word,
532. It might be right if I briefly intervened
to remind the Chairman that if at any stage he wants to give confidential,
supplementary evidence which would not see the light of day he
should feel entirely free to do so.
(Mr Holland) Thank you, Chairman.
533. What impact, I take it outside the specific
issue that I raised, where a Loyal Order would have conditions
set as a restriction on their right to march in certain areas,
or where the LOCC or any other residents' group might have some
condition applied to them and they break that, what impact does
that have when the Commission look at future requests from that
(Mr Holland) Quite a serious impact. I can only speak
about one I can consciously remember, because we make so many
determinations in a year; there was band that misbehaved, there
was very clear misbehaviour, and they were prohibited from taking
part in the subsequent parade in that area.
534. Without getting into the detail of any
application that you might have before you at the present time,
it would be wrong for anybody to contend to the Committee that,
for instance, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community could stage,
for the purposes of tying your hands, an event, then not go ahead
with it and simply get off with it?
(Mr Holland) If anybody makes an application for a
parade then does not have it the suggestion cannot be then said
that it has not been contrived.
535. I want to pursue the question of when mediation
is not mediation, because in answer to Peter Robinson you seem
to suggest that there were certain circumstances in which, because
of the complexity of the situation, you might be stretching your
brief occasionally. The Public Processions (Northern Ireland)
Act states that you can take such steps outside mediation, as
a Commission, to be appropriate to resolving disputes. To what
extent does the Commission see its role as resolving parades disputes
whenever possible? How do they interpret that section of the legislation?
(Mr Holland) I think we know that ultimately we are
an arbitrator, and like any arbitrator or judge if they descend
into the arena too much they invalidate the process and contaminate
it. The problem is, of course, there is a tremendous desire on
the part of the Commission to see mediation succeed, and to see,
as I said earlier, when I first started, the parading culture
of Northern Ireland enhanced. Therefore there is a great desire
to help and thereby trespass over into the bounds of mediation.
We did last year take the risk of issuing a Drumcree decision
in quite a different format, and the same with the Lower Ormeau.
In that particular piece in the newspaper which I sent to the
Committee to read, you will see how far we were out on a limb.
We could not go any further than that. We would not even go as
far as that this year. We were a new Commission desperately trying
to see if we could make some progress.
536. Presumably these areas are not easily definable
and the answer is to be as open as possible about what it is that
you are engaged in in order that the rest of us accept what you
are doing is actually in line with the legislation?
(Mr Martin) If I can just say at this stage, I have
had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to meet with cross
community groups, those groups being members of the CPLCs in Belfast,
where you have a lot of people, particularly community workers
on those particular committees, who have been trying to make progress
across communities and the Commission has been given the opportunity
to go on and explain the work that it does and to answer any relevant
questions and take back any comments or queries that those particular
individuals would raise. That we have found, or at least I have
found, to be extremely beneficial.
537. What sort of responses have you got in
(Mr Martin) I believe it has created a situation where
those individuals were encouraged to be equally committed or more
committed than they had been to try and bring about a resolution
to particular conflict within their areas.
538. Thank you. The Commission's statutory Code
of Conduct, procedures, rules and guidelines were last revised
in July 1999. What representations has the Commission received
concerning these documents and from whom would these representations
(Mr Holland) I am not aware of any representations
being made during the tenancy of this Commission in its present
role. If there has been I will write to you about that.
I am not aware of any having been made.
539. Have you, therefore, considered the issue?
Do you have any idea, even without representations, of where revisions
might take place?
(Mr Holland) On the guidelines and the procedure?
2 See Appendix 20, p 298. Back
See Appendix 20, p 298. Back