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


Memorandum submitted by Sinn Féin


  The issue of contentious parades, particularly those organised by the Loyal Orders through predominantly nationalist areas, remains a key challenge to the proper implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and its commitments to guarantee equality for all and to establish a society whose members are free from sectarian threat and harassment.

  Sinn Féin remains convinced that long-term solutions to the parading issue can be found in the implementation of a policy which include a broad acceptance of the right to march but which also includes, on the basis of equality, equity and parity of esteem, a proper acknowledgement of the rights of host communities not to have these parades forced through against their will.


  Sinn Féin holds the view that this review is being undertaken for the wrong reasons. We acknowledge the merits of reviewing the work of any public body in order to serve democratic accountability and improve its work. However, it is clear that this review is intended to erode the already questionable independence of the Parades Commission. Such a step is unacceptable.


  Decisions on parading issues should not be taken by the RUC. The RUC has proven itself incapable of acting impartially or of upholding the rule of law. Many of its members are also members of the Loyal Orders and all of its members share a Unionist world-view. We remain committed to the belief that the creation of a genuinely independent Parades Commission, operating under clearly defined criteria in a consistent and fair manner, is the best vehicle through which a solution to contentious parades can be achieved.


  It is clear that the present Parades Commission has lost the confidence of large sections of the community. Its composition, with an overwhelming preponderance of people with connections to the RUC and the Unionist community, has fatally flawed it in the eyes of most nationalists. Sinn Féin believes that it remains an urgent priority for the Government to appoint a new Commission that is broadly representative of the community and which is clearly independent of political and sectional interference. We believe that this must involve a clear out of all current commissioners. We also believe that the membership of the new commission should be broadly based and should include some people who are drawn from working class nationalist areas and who are sympathetic to Republican politics. Sinn Féin believes that the new Parades Commission needs to be broadly representative of the community it seeks to serve.


  The current Parades Commission has palpably failed to resolve the parades issue. Its decisions have become increasingly inconsistent and arbitrary. There is a widespread view that their decisions are influenced by the political considerations of the British Government. Their decisions have led in recent times to a deepening of community tension and to the unravelling of the one agreement actually reached between a residents' group and a loyal order, eg in Derry between the Bogside Residents' Group and the Apprentice Boys' Association. It is nonsense to suggest that there can be no connection drawn between Apprentice Boys' parades on Lower Ormeau and in Derry when in fact the Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys were en route to Derry.

  It is clear that the current Parades Commission now sees its primary objective as being to re-establish the right of Loyal Order to parade throughout the entire six counties with or without the consent of host nationalist communities. The only requirement on the Loyal Orders is to agree to some kind of minimal engagement with residents. This engagement does not have to lead to any perceptible changes in the route or demeanour of parades; it does not even have to involve members of the Loyal Orders or members of the actual Club or Lodge who are seeking to parade. Such a position is totally unacceptable to Sinn Fein and indeed the wider nationalist community.

  The Parades Commission's decision-making procedures and criteria need to be transparent, clearly defined and consistently applied. These criteria, whilst accepting broadly the right to parades, must also include proper acknowledgement of the rights of host communities to be allowed to live in peace, free from the fear of sectarian harassment and abuse and the right to say "no" to such parades. The new Parades Commission should give greater weight to finding alternative, non-contentious routes for parades.


  The decisions of the Parades Commission should always seek to create a context where genuine agreement and accommodation can take place. They should not undermine that process or already existing agreements. It is clear from events in Derry and Lower Ormeau in 1999 that at least one Loyal Order, the Apprentice Boys, are not engaged in a genuine process of seeking accommodation, but rather in ensuring that they do enough to get a favourable Parades Commission determination. Where there is no agreement, the Parades Commission's decision should be weighted in favour of local residents.


  Sinn Féin acknowledges the constructive role in mediation played by some of the Commission's Authorised Officers. However, it is our view that when this mediation fails, as is often the case, that the Authorised Officers and their reports form a part of a secretive decision-making process which has led to contradictory, illogical and controversial determinations. This militates against the building of trust between all of those involved in the mediation process. A separate, independent mediation process needs to be established as soon as is practicable.


  Sinn Féin believes that the new Assembly should eventually have a role in monitoring the work of the Parades Commission. However, it is our view that there does not exist sufficient agreement between the political parties which make up the Assembly to allow the Assembly at this time to take on this role.

14 January 2000

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