SUMMARY OF PRINCIPAL CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
118. Our principal conclusions and recommendations
are summarised below:
(a) We recommend
that, when the next round of appointments is due to be made, particular
efforts are made to attract high calibre candidates from sections
of the community which are presently under-represented on the
Parades Commission. (Paragraph 23).
(b) It is clear
that only a small proportion of the parades held by loyalists
or by nationalists are considered by the Commission to require
either route restrictions or conditions. (Paragraph 30).
(c) Although the
'parades issue' is frequently seen as monolithic, sectarian parades,
whether loyalist or nationalist, differ markedly in character,
depending on their purpose. The Mediation Network identified three
principal types, namely:
- church parades - parades either preceded or
followed by a church service;
- commemorative parades - parades which commemorate
a particular event, such as 12 July or St Patrick's Day;
- band parades - parades, overwhelmingly in
the loyalist tradition, which include those organised by bands
themselves, frequently for the purpose of raising funds, but also
include a much wider spectrum of events.
The information is available to sustain an analysis
of the extent to which each category of parade is subject to route
restrictions and conditions. We recommend that the Commission
includes an appropriate table in its Annual Reports. (Paragraph
(d) The majority
of the evidence we received clearly indicated that there would
be general advantage in engagement between the Orange institutions
and the Commission. A useful first step might be for Grand Lodge
to spell out the specific barriers it sees to engagement, and
suggest how the Commission and others might act to overcome them.
(e) The Mediation
Network suggested that the Commission should seek to define the
parades conflict more clearly. It commented that "a simple
exposition of the issues" would be helpful in stimulating
a more productive debate. It sees the root of parades disputes
as twofold: the relationship or social order between paraders
and opponents may have broken down, or it may have been unhealthy
in the first place. It identifies five specific dimensions to
the parades conflict - religious, political, public order, social
and economic, and communal, and suggests that "the Parades
Commission could usefully generate discussion and offer support
to those concerned with each of these dimensions so that, at all
the essential levels of society, a more focussed discussion could
take root in both public and private discourse." It recognises,
though, that "establishing a new consensual social order
between the traditions of Northern Ireland regarding parades is
a long term process, stretching beyond the tenure of the present
Commission." It might be that
progress along these lines would assist the Orange Institutions
in engaging with the Commission.(Paragraph 48).
(f) We have seen
a summary of the audit of the relationship between the RUC and
the Parades Commission. We welcome this review and would encourage
both bodies to build on its conclusions. (Paragraph 63).
(g) We note the
positive attitude taken by the RUC to assisting those wishing
to give notice of parades or protest meetings. The requirement
to give notice to an officer of the rank of sergeant or above
was not a new requirement in the 1998 Act; a similar requirement
had been included in the 1987 public order legislation. No evidence
has been submitted to us that this requirement was also a difficulty
under that legislation. (Paragraph 65).
(h) We have carefully
considered the arguments for and against returning responsibility
for issuing determinations to the police. On balance, we believe
that there are advantages in separating the power of determination
from responsibility for policing a parade, not least because the
range of the statutory criteria to be considered in relation to
issuing a determination was significantly broadened by the 1998
Act beyond pure public order considerations. (Paragraph 68).
(i) It is clear
from the terms of reference of the Northern Ireland Office's 1999
review of the Commission that the Government intended the scope
of the review to be limited. Its limited conclusions should not
have come as a surprise to anybody. It would have been helpful,
though, if the Government had made clear its intention to abandon
the proposal to bring forward the date of application of the Human
Rights Act 1998 to parades legislation. (Paragraph 71).
(j) Whether or
not individual witnesses saw the Authorised Officers of the Commission
as successful, they clearly have a key part to play in its work.
Given their change of status, when they come under the control
of the Commission rather than the Mediation Network, it seems
likely that they be perceived as more associated with the Commission
than before. This may impact on their acceptability as mediators.
We therefore recommend that the Commission should not use them
to report on parades, but should employ separate staff for this
purpose, as the Mediation Network has already suggested. Also,
arrangements for their supervision should ensure that Commissioners
who have overseen mediation work should not play an active part
in decisions on parades to which that work relates. (Paragraph
(k) We view with
some concern the Chairman's view that the Commission's procedures
in relation to decisions on parades may be open to challenge on
the grounds of natural justice. We recommend that the Government
and the Commission consider urgently whether the procedures need
to be improved by greater transparency and, if so, to put the
necessary steps in hand. (Paragraph 83).
of sensitive personal information may be very damaging in the
Northern Ireland context, in whichever direction. We greatly regret
that any such disclosures have taken place in the past and recommend
that every effort is made by the Commission to seek to prevent
recurrences. Not only may such disclosures unnecessarily expose
the persons concerned to enhanced levels of personal risk, they
may also contribute to a reinforcement of perceptions in the community
concerned about the competence of the Commission. (Paragraph 86).
(m) We recommend
that, as a matter of policy, the Commission sends official observers
to all parades in respect of which a determination has been made.
(n) The Commission
saw a number of practical difficulties with the concept of linkage
of parades, rather than always considering them separately as
the current legislation requires, not least because it appeared
to mean different things to different people. It has, however,
considered the matter further and concluded that it would be helpful
if it had a power enabling it to make general policy statements
in relation to individual contentious areas only. We recommend
that the Government examine this proposal carefully.
(o) The greatest
contribution to enhancing the level of prosecution of offences
under the Act would clearly be to improve the evidential base.
We have already recommended that the Commission should seek to
have observers present at all parades in respect of which a determination
has been issued. One logical function of such observers would
be to report to the Commission on the conduct of the parade, thus
reducing its reliance on police reports. (Paragraph 101).
(p) As the Northern
Ireland Office commented, the position on human rights is complex.
We are grateful for the two memoranda we have received on this
subject, which bear out the very real complexities and uncertainties.
It seems likely, therefore, that the courts may have to decide
on some important matters, such as the balance between the various
rights, and the scope for their restriction on the grounds of
a wider public interest. Although the Chairman of the Commission
expressed doubts over the present need for it to have the power
to assist litigants, we recommend that consideration be given
to enabling the Commission to contribute to the legal costs of
parties taking cases that raise points of general importance in
relation to the clarification of the application to parades of
human rights law. (Paragraph 106).
(q) We intend to
continue to take a close interest in the work of the Commission.
(r) In view of
the significance attached to the issue of parades to both traditions
in Northern Ireland, and the impact of some parades disputes on
community relations across the Province, we recommend that this
Report be debated by the House. (Paragraph 117).