Memorandum submitted by the Lower Ormeau
Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC) was
formed by local residents at a public meeting called in the immediate
aftermath of the murder by the Loyalist UFF of five people in
Sean Graham's Bookmakers in February 1992. As well as wishing
to offer practical help to the bereaved and injured, residents
were concerned that the onset of the Loyalist marching season
would bring further hurt to those who were already suffering grievously.
This concern proved to be very well founded. Since 1992, LOCC
has campaigned for the re-routing of sectarian and offensive parades
away from the Lower Ormeau Road area. LOCC is not affiliated to
any political party and does not have any wider political agenda.
Lower Ormeau Concerned Community has supported
the concept of an independent parades commission since the publication
of the North Report in 1997. In the years since the creation of
the Parades Commission, we have had occasion to criticise the
way the Commission has operated. However, our position remains
that there are difficult issues around parades in the North of
Ireland and there is a need for formal mechanisms to resolve these
issues. A parades commission, operating in an independent and
transparent way, according to clear and measurable rules and policies,
can play a valuable role in resolving disputed parades.
Our approach to the Parades Commission is different
to that of the Loyal Orders and Unionist politicians in general.
We want to see the Parades Commission freed from political interference
and operating in the independent way envisaged by the North Report.
The Loyal Orders and the Unionist politicians who support them
want to destroy the Commission so that they can return to the
days of the Stormont regime when the Loyal Orders enjoyed a virtually
unfettered right to march. For them, the "right to march"
applies only to Unionists. We know this from the public statements
of Unionist politicians in relation to Nationalist and republican
parades. We also know it from comments made directly to us by
representatives of the Apprentice Boys among others, who have
acknowledged that they would not accept Nationalist parades through
We also have a different perspective to the
Loyal Orders on the nature of the parades problem. The Loyal Orders
like to portray the Parades Commission (and the residents groups)
as the source of the problem. In fact, Loyal Order parades have
caused disturbance, conflict and deaths for two hundred years
and individual and blanket bans have been imposed on Loyal Order
parades on many occasions during that time.
A parades commission as recommended by the North
Report represented an attempt to deal with the problems caused
by parades. Notwithstanding a number of differences which we have
had with the Parades Commission since 1997, it remains our view
that the Parades Commission has the potential to make a significant
contribution to resolving the parades issue.
We do, however, have a concern that the Parades
Commission has drifted away considerably from the model set out
in the North Report.
Part of the blame for this lies with the Loyal
Orders, which have sought from the start to put the Parades Commission
on the defensive with a view to either destroying it or effectively
neutering it. They have been quite successful in that goal. They
have created an attitude within the Parades Commission and the
British Government that the Loyal Orders must be placated wherever
possible to encourage "acceptance" of the Parades Commission
by the Loyal Orders.
As a result of this attitude, we have seen the
Parades Commission move further and further away from the idea
of an independent and fair body, operating in an open and transparent
way and making decisions based on clear and quantifiable criteria,
as envisaged within the North Report.
Our starting point would therefore be that the
best way to enhance the effectiveness of the Parades Commission
is for the Commission to operate in a way which is demonstrably
fair and consistent. A group or individual may not like a decision,
but at least the process of decision making is clear and understandable.
We have not had this type of approach to date.
Instead we have too often seen the Parades Commission apply a
limited set of the original criteria in an inconsistent way and
this has been the source of the lack of acceptance which we have
today, not just within the Loyal Orders but among residents of
areas affected by parades and also among the wider Nationalist
The problem has been compounded by the clear
political interference of the British Government and the NIO review
referred to in this inquiry's terms of reference is seen by us
as part of that ongoing political interference.
Lower Ormeau Concerned Community has criticised
the NIO review and other reviews of the Parades Commission which
have had the effect of moving the decision-making process of the
Commission further and further away from the model set out by
North. The scrapping of the obligation on the Commission to deliver
a preliminary view on contentious parades was a mistake which
has encouraged the Loyal Orders to engage in last minute PR stunts
rather than seriously addressing clearly defined problems associated
with their parades.
The replacement of the requirement on parade
organisers to "reach agreement" with residents by the
stipulation that the organisers should "take whatever steps
are reasonable to meet residents' concerns" has put in place
an entirely subjective criteria which is being and will be interpreted
very narrowly and opportunistically by the Loyal Orders.
The Commission continues to give undue weight
to the "tradition" of parading. We believe that tradition
is a fundamentally wrong principle on which to base decisions
in relation to parades. It ignores the fact that marching traditions
were built up primarily during the Stormont and direct rule eras,
when Unionist marches were actively facilitated and Nationalist
rights were totally ignored. To lend weight to these traditions
is to endorse the discriminatory practices that created those
"traditional" marches in the volumes that we have today.
It also misses the point that nearly all contentious parades are
long-standing and that in fact the long-standing nature of the
abuse and provocation associated with those parades has created
the situations of contention and confrontation in the first place.
As Brid Rodgers of the SDLP said "So-called traditional routes
are the product of sectarian coat-trailing of previous generations.
They are based on an inequality of power between the two communities,
exercised irresponsibly and with total disregard for the existence,
let alone the rights, of nationalists".
The Commission does not give any parallel weight
to traditions of opposition to parades. There is documentary evidence
of opposition to parades on the Lower Ormeau Road as far back
as the 1970s. If weight is to be given to parading traditions,
then why not also give weight to traditions of opposition to parades?
Mediation and conflict resolution initiatives
undertaken by or sponsored by the Parades Commission can only
succeed if the credibility of the Commission is restored. We have
seen the Parades Commission use dialogue between ourselves and
the Apprentice Boys as the defining criteria to be applied in
relation to the 14 August 1999 parade and to behave as if dialogue
represented the solution to the problem rather than merely a means
of looking for areas of possible agreement.
The Commission's attitude to the 14 August 1999
parade seemed to be that the very act of meeting with LOCC meant
that the Apprentice Boys parade must go ahead and that the failure
to reach agreement also meant that the parade must go ahead. This
put the residents in a no-win situation. Even genuine dialogue
can often fail to bridge a gap between two parties and one side
should not suffer automatic punishment for that failure. The "dialogue"
leading up to the 14 August 1999 paradeas far as the Apprentice
Boys were concernedconsisted of a restatement by them of
their absolute intention to parade and their reasons for doing
The Commission needs to accept that in certain
well-defined situations it is unreasonable for the Loyal Orders
to insist on parading in a given area and that it is legitimate
for the residents to remain unconvinced even after exploring the
various issues with the Loyal Orders.
The prospects for local agreement have been
damaged by the Parades Commission's attitude to dialogue, with
residents convinced that the Loyal Orders will go through the
motions of dialogue in order to sway the Commission rather than
trying to seriously understand and resolve the problems around
parades. Residents believe that dialogue will be used against
them by the Commission.
The type of "legislative dialogue"
which the Apprentice Boys have engaged in has been criticised
by a number of experts in conflict resolution And mediation that
we have talked to. If the Parades Commission takes the same shallow
approach to mediation as it has taken to discussions between the
Loyal Orders and residents then any process of mediation is bound
to fail. Furthermore, longer term prospects for mediation or conflict
resolution will be damaged.
It is vitally important that steps are taken
immediately to restore the credibility of the Parades Commission.
As we have said, this can only be done by creating confidence
that the Commission is capable of operating in an independent,
transparent and consistent manner.