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
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
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
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
14 January 2000