Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Submission to the Northern Ireland Office on the Review of the Parades Commission from Community Relations Council

November 1999 (Item 4 amended October 2000)


  The Community Relations Council welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Northern Ireland Office on the review of the Parades Commission. The Council is aware that issues surrounding some parades continue to provoke tension and sometimes violence in a number of our communities. It also recognises that such tension is often inimical to good community relationships.

  The Council, in its submission to the Independent Review of Parades in October 1996, argued that "the issue of parades must take into account the multi-faceted nature of the problem, and that attempts to address it on any single level, or through any single initiative, will not be adequate".

  The Council recognises the importance of having a body separate from the police making determinations on parades. This has created an important distinction between the authority making a determination and the police who uphold it. It is also important this distinction once created, is not removed.

  In this submission the Community Relations Council would make the following comments:

1.  Impact of parades on community relations:

  There is a connection between parades and community relations, either in local contexts or across Northern Ireland. The Parades Commission, in its determinations, comments on the possible impact to community relations of a parade. However, there is no indication of how this is monitored, either before or after the event, so that outcomes can inform future decisions. Nor is there any indication of a base line used in the setting of judgements.

2.  Mediation:

  The Council is aware that there is a formal process for mediation through the Commission's "authorised officers". There is also an informal system that has been used on a number of occasions. These people have come from a variety of backgrounds, church, community, business and political representatives. The fact that these people are not part of any formal structure has, on occasions, been the very reason why they have been able to perform a useful function and assist in a satisfactory outcome. In looking at the use of mediation it is critical that the roles both of formal and informal mediators are validated.

3.  Process:

  The process that leads up to a determination on a parade can be as significant as the determination itself. The Council would recommend that the Commission be asked to pay due regard to the process.

  If process is seen to be as inclusive as possible, the experience of the Council is that participants are more likely to accept the decision made. There is also a greater chance of an accommodation or acceptance by antagonistic parties rather than each perceiving a decision as a "victory" or a "defeat".

  The Council believes that it is important that the community relations principles of equity, diversity and interdependence are critical in the delivery of policies in Northern Ireland. The application of these principles are all important in contentious areas such as parades.

4.  Marshalling:

  The Community Relations Council, through a number of funding measures, has provided support to enable the training and assessment of marshals for the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and Loyal Orange Lodge parades in Londonderry. The need for this type of training has been recognised by observers. The need is also highlighted in the Patten Report. There has not been a commitment from Government for funding of this on a large scale. A number of Further Education Colleges have expressed an interest in taking up this training on a wider scale (than solely for parades). The Council is concerned that if support is not given in the near future, much of the good work of the pilot schemes might be lost.

  Funding was provided by the Department of Higher and Further Education and Training and Employment to enable FE Colleges to train staff to enable them to deliver courses in marshalling. The lead college is Dungannon FE College and as a result a number of Lodges and Districts have commenced formal marshal training. Attached is a copy of an article from The Times Educational Supplement on this[4].

5.  Communication:

  The Council, together with other funders (such as Making Belfast Work, Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust) has supported the use of mobile phones for community activists at interface areas during periods of potential disruption. This has been shown as an aid in reducing tensions. While not always directly connected to parade disputes, there is often a link. Again, we suggest that there is a need for this type of initiative to receive formal support and not left to ad hoc funding.

6.  Education/debate:

  The Community Relations Council and other community relations agencies has supported the opening up of the debates around parades and cultural diversity. Such debates are ways of increasing dialogue and helping towards an understanding of the issues involved. The Council wants to see this type of work develop. It is also aware that people from the Loyal Orders have been prepared to engage with the Council specifically because the Council is not perceived as the body which makes determinations about parades etc. We believe that our independence has been useful and has assisted in the opening up of dialogue and testing of initiatives such as the marshal training and the Maiden City Festival. Until now, the Council has kept the Commission informed on an ad hoc basis. It now believes that more regular contact, possibly on a six monthly basis, would be useful. The Council however is anxious to distance itself from any formal part of the determination process as this might affect its perceived neutrality and its ability to engage with those who are opposed to the Parades Commission.

4   Not reported. Back

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