Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600 - 609)



  600. The Parades Commission.
  (Mr Ingram) I have a comment on the Human Rights Commission as well. Clearly they would have to give consideration to any court judgment and I think what I said was that it gave more surety to the way they have conducted their business, and I think I am right in saying that. If there is any fine-tuning which flows from it, this which would then require action by Government, and the Parades Commission came to us and said, "This is what is now required", clearly we would have to respond to that. Equally, that would apply to the Human Rights Commission because they would be a body whose judgment would be taken into account because that is part of the reason for them being set up in the first place.

  601. Finally, both the Parades Commission and indeed the Royal Ulster Constabulary are bound now to act in consideration of human rights. What is the point of having two bodies considering the same thing when indeed the police could in fact take the decision in the light of the human rights obligation they are under?
  (Mr Ingram) I do not think it changes the relationship of the police to any particular contentious parade or any parade. That is why the North Report came to the conclusions it came to and why the Government then implemented, in the main, the recommendations of the North Report, which were to have a body which had two prime functions, one to assist and to facilitate mediation, to try and find points of reconciliation within the community, and also to make determinations, and then it was the role of the police to apply the law as determined by that independent body. I know, Mr Thompson, your view is we should go back to where we were before there were the conditions of the human rights legislation, but it was always there anyway, it just was not in domestic law but the challenge could be made in any event under that legislation and never was. I have to say the view of the RUC and indeed of Government was that what had applied before, with the highly volatile environment which existed in and around not just Drumcree but certainly in and around that particularly highly disputed parade, put the police in a very difficult situation. It put the Chief Constable in a very difficult situation if he was having to mediate and find ways forward, to try and assist a reconciliation, and then having to police it in those circumstances without any independent body assisting them in that approach. That is basically the reasoning behind the North Report, it is the way we interpreted it and I think overall it is working better than what prevailed before, even with the implementation of the Human Rights Act.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Minister. I have one or two things I want to say myself but let me just verify whether anybody else has a question they want to ask.

Mr McGrady

  602. One of the main recommendations accepted was that the Commission should develop its role as the educator on reconciliation and mediation and provide support, assistance and advice particularly to local mediators and local areas with their problems. Indeed you have reaffirmed that in some of your subsequent submissions, Minister. Were there any additional resources either in terms of funding or personnel given to the Commission to enable it to carry out this enhanced role?
  (Mr Ingram) The advice I have is the answer is no, and none were sought; they did not ask for any additional resources.[3] I do not want to encourage such a request but we do view this as a very important area and, although not directly conducted by the Parades Commission, the Government has put a lot of resources into trying to find mediation and reconciliation in Drumcree. There was an earlier attempt and they brought in an outside mediator. I myself got involved in a wide ranging set of discussions with the two parties in conflict over Drumcree, and we now have another initiative in place as well which has been substantially funded. So, in other ways it has been funded but not through the Parades Commission. The Government would not shy away from putting money on the table if we could get an answer to these very difficult problems.

  603. I assume it is right to assume then that if the Commission did not ask for extra funding that it was satisfied with the current funding it had, which you would have directed?
  (Mr Ingram) I hesitate to be too encouraging here, because we may get a letter now saying, "Give us more money", but we would have to examine it on the basis of what it was for. I stand by what I said, if the business case is made and we can see outputs from that which would benefit the work of the Commission, we would not shy away from that, because we want this body to work even more successfully than it has been up to now.


  604. Let me now say the things I was going to say in conclusion. The first is, and I do not want my next remark to be misunderstood, given the fact there has been some failure of meeting of minds between ourselves and not one but two Secretaries of State on the subject of something we published recently and questions we asked, it is not because of that that I say I am extremely gratified to hear you will in due course be responding to whatever report we publish, which I hope we will be able to bring out even before the earliest date the General Election might occur. I am not going to press you about that date, not least because you are probably not empowered to answer it, but I do have a question to ask you about the past. When did the Government, and this is purely chronological, formally announce the decision not to bring forward the coming into effect of the Human Rights Act in the context of the Public Processions Act?
  (Mr Ingram) We never did.

  605. You never did? Well, that is a helpful answer in itself. Thank you for that.
  (Mr Ingram) Perhaps it was too short an answer for you, Mr Chairman.

  606. I thought if I paused long enough you might respond!

  (Mr Ingram) It was a trial of wills, was it! Again because the process moved on and we were moving—I think I gave an answer which gave some indication of it earlier—into the first determination of the new Parades Commission as the marching season started, when we were still trying to assess and assimilate the best way forward in all of this, with some of the views changing as we spoke to individual bodies, trying to get clearer understanding from other bodies, and it became a matter of as we were moving into the new process the Parades Commission itself did not want it to happen, it would have been wrong to have imposed that upon them. That would have really been a difficulty for them as they saw it, and we had to respect their view in all of this. But it was not because of any dilatoriness or unwillingness on behalf of Government to try and find an answer to this. We saw it as a very important issue and key to what we had set out to understand in the Review, but time beat us, the calendar moved against us. In any event October, when the implementation of the Act was coming in right across all Government departments, was looming large and we just let it drift in that particular way. "Drift" is probably a word my officials would say we never did but that was the climate in which the decision was not taken, but I think everyone realised that was the reality.

  607. Thank you very much for that. The other is a piece of housekeeping. I should have said at the beginning that in addition to saying we were grateful to you for coming to give evidence, you were giving evidence in private, that the evidence was strictly confidential to the Committee and we would not be reporting it immediately to the House. The fact remains your evidence has been valuable and I wondered, if we were to send you a transcript of the evidence, as we would be doing in any case, if you could advise us what parts of it you would not want to be published, and also indicate whether you would be content for the rest to be published.
  (Mr Ingram) I am very grateful to you, Chairman, for offering that facility. I would say yes to that, I would welcome that opportunity.

  608. I am not pressing you but the more we can publish the better, because it obviously fills out the general picture.
  (Mr Ingram) If I could release the whole testimony for that purpose, the answer is I would be very keen to do so. I do not think I have said anything untoward—officials may say afterwards, "Minister, perhaps you could have voiced that in a slightly different", but that is the benefit of having good officials. But I will make the final decision based upon what I say.

  609. Very good. We will send it to you as quickly as we can. We are extremely appreciative of you having coming here to give evidence.
  (Mr Ingram) Thank you.

3   See Ev p 186. Back

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