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


Memorandum submitted by the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth

    No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it.

    There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness.

    There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb.

    Franklin R Roosevelt December 1940


  The Royal Black Institution—A Brief Explanation


  Operation of the Parades Commission

      Castlederg Royal Black District Chapter No. 6

      City of Belfast Grand Black Chapter

      Strabane Royal Black District Chapter No. 2

      Bellaghy RBP 573

      Pomeroy RBP 259

      Killyman Royal Black District Chapter No. 1

      Dunloy RBP 594

      Newry Royal Black District Chapter No. 4

      Newtownbutler RBP 811 / Rosslea RBP 473

      Primatial Royal Black District Chapter No. 4


  Enhancements of the Parades Commission



A Brief Explanation

  The Royal Black Institution was formed in September 1797. This Order of Christian Knighthood evolved from earlier Orders of Chivalry that flourished in the times of the Crusades and in the early Reformation days.

  Since its inception the Institution has spread to and developed in Scotland, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Ghana and Togo in West Africa.

  The tiered structure of the Institution has as its foundations the local Preceptory (Lodge). This unit elects officers who represent their membership at the next tier, namely a District Chapter. The District Chapter Officers form a County or Provincial Grand Chapter. The officers of these units constitute the membership of the governing body known as the Imperial Grand Council. This Council is recognised by all members of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth, which is the title of the Institution, as being the supreme authority with the Sovereign Grand Master as the head of this international organisation.

  The administrative offices are located at Brownlow House, Lurgan, Co Armagh.

  The aims and objective of the Royal Black Institution are solely based on Christian teaching as found in Holy Scripture and on the principles of the Reformation and is therefore non-political. The members are encouraged to study the Scriptures and to participate fully in the life and witness of the Christian Church. They are also encouraged to act charitably and to be good citizens of their respective countries.

  The Royal Black Institution organises processions throughout its various worldwide jurisdictions as a public manifestation of our Christian Faith. The main reasons for processions taking place can be summarised as follows:-

    —  Church Services

    —  Dedication of Standards

    —  Annual Major Gala Processions


    July 13—Scarva


    2 Saturday in August—Fermanagh

    Last Saturday in August—6 Venues

  It is important to note the central purpose of each of the above is a religious service.

  We must stress that the importance of these gala occasions are not to create problems, to give offence or appear to be triumphant to those who would not necessarily have an affinity with our religious aspirations, but are to allow our members, their families and others to take part in a communal day out when their religious and cultural identity are clearly expressed and exhibited.

  It is worthy of note and is substantiated by factual information that prior to 1995, particularly over the previous twenty five years during an extremely vicious terrorist campaign, processions organised by the Royal Black Institution have taken place without any objections from any source and have always been and continue to be conducted in a dignified manner and ended peacefully.


  In considering the terms of reference set by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for the inquiry into the Parades Commission and the request for the Royal Black Institution to make a written submission, having consulted our membership in areas where objections have been raised against lawful processions of the Royal Black Institution, a number of common themes have emerged upon which comment will be made.


1.  Castlederg Royal Black District Chapter No 6

  Castlederg District was re-routed for the first time in August 2000 following a Determination by the Parades Commission based on the number of processions organised by other organisations. No satisfactory reason or analysis was provided by the Parades Commission as to why it was necessary to re-route the procession away from a commercial area in Castlederg.

  Why is an organisation that only organises two processions per year penalised on the basis of the number of other processions held in the area?

  Why were undertakings given to a particular section of the community that no processions would be allowed in a commercial area of Castlederg without their consent—a de-facto veto?

2.  City of Belfast Grand Black Chapter

  Two areas are affected:

(a)  Whitewell Road (RBP 336 Greencastle)

  A so called local community group threatening public disorder has faced this small local procession with increasing orchestrated pressure and confrontation. This has resulted in this small Preceptory not being permitted to return to their local area following attendance at the Annual Gala Procession.

(b)  Ormeau Road (District Chapter No 7 Ballynafeigh)

  The issues surrounding processions in this particular area are well documented. However, it is disappointing to record that notwithstanding efforts by the Royal Black Institution to defuse the difficulties and the recognition of such efforts by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and others, all of these sacrifices have been to no avail. The Parades Commission has never acknowledged these sacrifices and simply continues to be submissive to the threat of public disorder emanating from groups brought into the area to add numbers and increase the threat.

  When is there going to be an acknowledgement by the Parades Commission of the efforts and dignified actions taken by the Royal Black Institution in Belfast?

  Considering the obstructionist position taken by the so called local community groups and negative "no parade stance" adopted, when is the Parades Commission going to have the courage to confront such threats?

3.  Strabane Royal Black District Chapter No 2

  The Parades Commission since its inception has subjected processions in Strabane to Determinations. However, factual evidence reveals the misguided and ill judged nature of the Parades Commission Determinations. For example:

    (a)  Consultation with residents not living on the processional route.

    (b)  Processional Route is 78 per cent Commercial Premises and the remaining 22 per cent comprises mixed commercial/residential property.

    (c)  Opinions of the organisers of Royal Black processions are never sought or considered, nor is the opinion of the more moderate tolerant wider Nationalist community taken into account. However, it is noted that the views of a vociferous republican minority backed up by the implied threat of public disorder are given precedence and are apparently the deciding factor in the determination of the Parades Commission.

  Is it pertinent to the issue, or within the remit of the Parades Commission to consult with residents who do not reside on the processional route?

  Considering the short time taken and the small numbers involved in the procession passing through a 78 per cent commercial area, how can the Parades Commission conclude that such a procession would give rise to public disorder and create an adverse impact on relationships within the community?

4.  Bellaghy RBP 573

  Again, local evidence clearly indicates the activities of a republican minority bearing disproportionate influence on the village community to the extent that the villagers have been instructed to remain indoors and ignore any procession taking place. Yet again the Parades Commission succumb to the veiled threat.

  From whom does the Parades Commission seek information that leads them to conclude that the villagers of Bellaghy would raise objections to their neighbours who are members of the Royal Black Institution, with whom they associate daily and do business with, holding a procession in a part of the village?

5.  Pomeroy RBP 259

  The Preceptory has been prevented from entering the village on the evening of the last Saturday in August since 1995. Draconian restrictions have been placed on processions to and from local village churches for the purposes of public worship. It should be noted that the Preceptory in trying to retain previous good relations had voluntarily reduced their usual route by 50 per cent. Again no consideration or recognition has been forthcoming from the Parades Commission or the republican objectionists, most of whom reside one half mile from the nearest point on the processional route. Indeed the republican activities have been so blatant and vindictive as to result in the closing of a number of Protestant businesses in the village.

  It appears the Parades Commission has the intent to protect and cosset minority communities in other areas yet when our members are only seeking a level of mutual tolerance, why is it there is no attempt to protect and uphold the minority community in Pomeroy?

6.  Killyman Royal Black District Chapter No 1

  A Determination had been made for a procession in Dungannon on 29 August 1998. Notwithstanding the extreme disappointment of the District Chapter the membership complied with the imposed restrictions. Following the event, which passed off in a peaceful and dignified manner, the District Chapter wrote to the Parades Commission seeking clarification on a number of points especially:-

    (a)  How the information, which led to the Determination, was collected?

    (b)  Why their own guidelines on collecting such information/submission were not applied?

  No reply was forthcoming and a second letter eventually brought forth a response but no answers to the questions raised. A further letter was sent seeking answers but none were forthcoming.

  Considering the demands of the Parades Commission, a public body, is it unreasonable to expect, when questions of clarification are sought in writing, that satisfactory answers should be forthcoming?

7.  Dunloy RBP 594

  This is another well-documented area of difficulty for our membership. It is incomprehensible that the membership in Dunloy is subjected to such stringent restrictions on their lawful processions to and from their meeting hall and local Church. Indeed these restrictions have become so severe that the members are prevented from even stepping beyond the gate or boundary of their meeting hall grounds. All this despite having entered into dialogue with the residents of Dunloy following representations from the highest levels in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This proved to be a fruitless exercise and the local Preceptory is bemused as to what they can do that would result in the restoration of their rights and freedoms to assemble and process in their usual dignified manner. Again it is evident that the weight and threat of public disorder carries the day.

  Is the Parades Commission ever going to recognise the efforts and integrity of our members to resolve a problem artificially created by republican intransigence?

8.  Newry Royal Black District Chapter No 4

  There is strong dissatisfaction at the imposed blocking of Royal Black Institution processions in Newry, which have been scheduled to pass through a commercial area of the town, due to threats and street protests by a group termed as "Newry Town Coalition". This group has an address at least one-mile northwest of the intended route but were permitted to impose their extremist views on the situation. Another disturbing factor for our Members is that despite having given the statutory 28 days notice of a procession, the Parades Commission delays giving Determinations until the latest possible moment, sometimes mere hours before the event is due to take place. It is not hard to imagine the difficulties this poses for those trying to organise a peaceful and dignified procession.

  Why is it necessary to give 28 days notice for legal procession organised by a law-abiding organisation when protest action, including the blocking of roads, can be taken without any advance notice whatsoever?

  Can the Parades Commission not organise their affairs in such a manner as to be able to provide details of a Determination a minimum of five days before the event?

9.  Newtownbutler RBP 811 Rosslea RBP 473

  In this area of Fermanagh, our membership is extremely discontented with the activities of the Parades Commission in that they completely capitulate to the unreasonable demands of republican protestors and Sinn Fein activists when the threat of violence is made. There is also the unconscionable arrogance demonstrated in Parades Commission determinations issued and imposed on the Royal Black Institution, designed to placate violent people.

  Since 1995 the rights of our members have been restricted and no recognition has been given to their responsible attempts to ease artificially created tensions in the area. On every occasion they have refused to react to threat and protest or imposed restriction. Indeed they have voluntarily reduced the small number of processions in which they engage, shortened the routes and taken other roads and streets to avoid giving any excuse to those who have made a career of being offended.

  There is extensive documentation available to substantiate these opinions and views, detailing dates, times and actions. From the documentation, common themes emerge which give rise to deep concern as to the capability of the Parades Commission to act impartially.

    (a)  The protests, which are part of a much wider political agenda and strategy, are led and organised by a Sinn Fein Councillor, from Clones, Co. Monaghan, supported by others from outside the area, intent on violence.

    (b)  Residents on the proposed routes have not voiced or raised objections to the processions taking place.

    (c )  The Parades Commission is aware, as stated in its 1999 Annual report . . . "That the potential for conflict with the Police was often a motive in itself for the protests".

  Considering the Parades Commissions humiliating treatment of the members of the Royal Black Institution in Newtownbutler and Rosslea is it any surprise that this body is known as the "No Parades Commission".

10.  Primatial Royal Black District Chapter No 4

  The Parades Commission has imposed restrictions on the annual "Last Saturday" feeder parade in Armagh City since the second year of the Commission's creation.

  In the first year this traditional parade was allowed to proceed without impediment along the chosen route, although the RUC had to clear a small illegal gathering of "out of town" protestors, from the roadway, at one point on the route.

  The officers of Primatial District have consistently and publicly indicated their willingness to enter into dialogue with their fellow citizens who actually live on the notified parade route. This offer has never either been acknowledged or acted upon by residents and it is therefore questioned as to exactly who the Parades Commission take their "evidence" from in Armagh in order to make what should be sustainable determinations.

  The Parades Commission must have been aware of the presence of International Observers at the 12 July 2000 parade in Armagh and it is quite illuminating that no report was ever publicly shared. It would be extremely interesting to know if the Parades Commission made any effort to obtain access to or take account of those independent observations when making the determination for the 26 August 2000 parade in Armagh. It is interesting to note that the RUC has confirmed, in writing, that they were unaware of any report produced by these observers.

  In recent years the members of the Black Institution have been pleased to observe both Protestant and Roman Catholic residents, from that part of the route where access has been denied, watching and enjoying the procession with their children.

  The officers of the Primatial Royal Black District seriously question the sustainability of the basis for the determination that any part of their procession in Armagh could have "the potential for public disorder, disruption to the life of the community and an adverse impact on relationships within the community".

  In terms of "impact on relationships within the community" it should be noted that some years before the Parades Commission was created and when the main demonstration in Armagh City followed the traditional route, Primatial District officers as a mark of respect instructed bands to refrain from playing past an area where, two weeks earlier, two young Roman Catholic men had been murdered.

  The members of the Primatial District have, despite their abhorrence at the determinations over the years, complied with the decisions taken under the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998.

  The officers and members of Primatial District are committed to the principles of civil and religious liberty for all and of being responsible citizens and good neighbours. They pray for the day when all their fellow citizens of Armagh City and District can come to the point of embracing those same principles and furthermore to tell the Parades Commission that the streets of Armagh are open and accessible to all citizens.

  When will the Parades Commission respond positively to the issues highlighted and act in a manner to ensure the liberties of all responsible citizens are safeguarded?


  The foregoing are but examples of the treatment meted out to our members, and demonstrably indicates a sad lack of impartiality on the part of the Parades Commission in their operations and Determinations. It is evident there is an obvious bias and submissive attitude towards appeasing those who would use the threat of public disorder and whose avowed intentions are to actively and deliberately target all processions and stop them at whatever cost. Despite this, and notwithstanding recent provocation, public disorder has never occurred at or emanated from any procession or demonstration organised by members of the Royal Black Institution. This can be ascertained by reference to public and police records and considering that this Institution has been commended on numerous occasions by the printed and visual media for the dignity, discipline and restraint always exhibited by its members, we find it incomprehensible that our members should be deprived of their legal right to process lawfully and peacefully along the roads and streets of Northern Ireland.

  The Parades Commission also fails in the operation of its Charter in that it does not collect information from all those with an interest in a procession being held, nor does it act as a go between with those involved in a disputed processional route. The serious work of a facilitator ought not to be confused with the collection of or repetition of idle gossip or noting of rumour on which to base a Determination.


  It is well nigh impossible, given the track record of the Parades Commission since inception, to suggest any changes that could or would improve the ongoing negative work of this appointed body. Nevertheless despite our well-founded reservations documented in our submission[5] to the Review Body chaired by Dr North and now supported by the foregoing, we would offer the following suggestions:

    —  it is essential that Determinations be based on factual information.

    —  The threat of public disorder must never be the deciding factor in making a Determination. To submit to this only encourages the demand for further concessions from the organisers of peaceful processions and places the Royal Ulster Constabulary in an invidious position.

    —  Determinations must take cognisance of the long record of dignity, discipline and restraint always shown by those involved in processions organised by the Royal Black Institution. This creditable conduct has often been commended by various sections of the media and those charged with maintaining and upholding law and order.

    —  The Parades Commission must surely challenge the validity of "local community groups", which have a tendency to appear early summer for a few months and then disappear. It is important to acknowledge the validity and positive contribution to society of the membership of the Royal Black Institution since its establishment in 1797.

    —  In any sensitive matter confidentiality is of the most extreme importance. The leaking or revealing of the names of those involved in organising processions is to be severely deplored and removes all confidence in those involved in preparing and making Determinations. Steps should be taken to prevent any such occurrence in the future.

    —  In exercising their responsibilities facilitators must ensure they seek and deal fairly with all parties with an interest in a procession, whether for or against it taking place. Experience has revealed that different facilitators are approaching different groups to seek views without reference to the others. This leads to an imbalance in the collection and collating of vital information necessary in making a fair Determination.

    —  In arriving at Determinations the Parades Commission would appear to be subject to political considerations in that there are common themes revealed throughout their decisions:

      —  1.  Adverse impact on community relations.

      —  2.  The potential for public disorder.

      —  3.  Pressure to enter into dialogue with representatives of a "local community".

  In this context the Parades Commission should be clearly and patently transparent in its dealings. It should not be subject to or take cognisance of pressure from either political parties or Government.


  The community from which the Royal Black Institution draws its membership has been accused in the past of having a "siege mentality". Considering the Determinations made by the Commission there are more than ample reasons for such an attitude to prevail and, indeed, there is now justification for a feeling of official victimisation purposely being perpetrated to appease, to mollify and to encourage republicans to accept and be part of a political and constitutional arrangement within Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. An objective, which surely the most dimwitted can clearly see, is utterly unattainable.

  Indeed it is obvious that republicans are intent on developing a "grievance culture" and the Determinations of the Parades Commission give credence to that myth which is not only perpetuating but fostering in their young people a feeling of oppression, repression, underprivilege, discrimination and disadvantage. This negative and introverted attitude is resulting in artificially created enclaves, which thrive on a philosophy of "ourselves alone" and therefore contribute nothing to mutual understanding or the advancement of tolerance in a mature society.

  The reasons given in our submission to Dr North against the establishment of a Parades Commission have been proven to be valid and the concerns expressed have been more than amply justified. Indeed the establishment of the Commission has resulted in an increase and escalation of republican protests against the legitimate public expression of a culture, which seeks only to exhibit the Christian principles of the Reformation.

November 2000

5   Not reported. Back

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