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


Supplementary Memorandum submitted by the Parades Commission


  During his evidence to the Committee on Wednesday 28 February, the Chairman of the Parades Commission, Mr Tony Holland, responding to questions (570-571) from Mr Clarke about grouping parades, indicated that so-called "linkage" between different parades can be interpreted in different ways and that the Commission had in any case a statutory duty to consider parades separately.

  The members of the Commission have since then had an opportunity to debate this matter further, during a two-day session set aside for discussing these kinds of issues. They have come to the conclusion that it would be helpful if the Commission had a power enabling it to make general policy statements in relation to individual contentious areas only. It would not envisage any such enabling power being used other than sparingly, most probably at the request of some recognised party (as opposed to an individual) in or near the location of the contentious parades, and possibly limited in its duration. (This might be a protagonist to the dispute or indeed some other body with an interest in the matter, such as, for example, a chamber of commerce.)

  The Commission intends now to give consideration to making recommendations to the Secretary of State on this matter. The Chairman thought it might be helpful to the Committee's deliberations to know of this development.

  Another matter that I would wish to refer to at this juncture is Tony Holland's response to question 538 raised by Mr Barnes. Mr Barnes asked what representations there had been about the Commission's Statutory Code of Conduct, procedures, rules and guidelines and from whom these representations had come. The Apprentice Boys of Derry General Committee wrote to Mr Holland on 29 September 2000 enclosing a legal note that the General Committee indicated had been sent to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The letter could be interpreted as a representation about the rules and procedures of the Parades Commission.

  More recently, and since the Commission gave evidence, there has been further correspondence about the same issue with legal advisers to the Belfast Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys of Derry and with legal advisers to a flute band from Kilkeel called Banna Fluit Noamh Phadraig. All three pieces of correspondence call into question the fairness of the Commission's procedures, which are of course provided for in the statutory documents.

  I will respond separately to a number of other points that have been raised.

14 March 2001

  The Chairman of the Parades Commission, giving evidence to the Committee on Wednesday 28 February 2001, indicated that he would follow up a number of points in writing. These are dealt with immediately below, drawing upon the numbering used on the draft transcript.

  At 520, Mr Hunter indicated that the Ulster Bands Association (UBA) had been seeking a meeting with the Commission from the end of October 2000 and had had no reply for three months. He enquired as to why it took the Commission so long to reply.

  There seems to be some misunderstanding. The Ulster Band's Association was not waiting three months for a reply from the Commission. The Commission's Secretariat had several telephone discussions with the Association over the intervening period, aimed at arranging a meeting suitable to both the Association and the Commission. Firstly, there was no sense of the Association requiring a meeting quickly. The Association did not seek a meeting with the Commission prior to any specific procession notification date or before any other key date. Rather the UBA was seeking to meet the Commission before the start of the 2001 "Marching Season" to discuss general issues. In addition, given that members of the Association had difficulty coming to meet the Commission during those hours which the Commission had set aside for business, it was necessary to arrange a special "extraordinary" meeting. The Association specifically asked to meet the Commission on a Wednesday, and after 8.00 pm to facilitate their travelling arrangements. The Commission agreed to this, and met the UBA on Wednesday 14 March 2001 at 8.30 pm. The meeting lasted two hours and was very productive.

  At 543 Dr Palmer enquired as to what research related to parades has been commissioned by the Commission over the last 12 months.

  The Commission has recently placed a number of questions in a Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey seeking to discover public attitudes to restrictions on parading. The Commission has not directly commissioned other research within the last 12 months. Of course, the Commission conducts its own analyses and interpretation of data and employs a team of Authorised Officers to glean information and report on diverse local parading locations throughout Northern Ireland. We also receive reports from the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland on specific parading subjects and receive reports from the other mediators and negotiators involved in parading issues. This is, however, not of the nature of commissioned research. The Commission makes use of the research and publications of others which touches on parading, whether from individual academics, organisations or other commissions, such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

  At 559, Mr Beggs asked if any attempt had been made to determine if the Authorised Officers were representative of the various parading traditions in Northern Ireland. The Commission has no information on this beyond the fact that Authorised Officers are drawn from both main communities in Northern Ireland.

  At 561 Mr Beggs asked how many applications have been rejected by the Commission in each of the last three years on the grounds that inadequate notice had been given. The Commission is not aware of rejecting any application on the grounds solely of inadequate notice over the last three years. Those notifying parades are required to give 28 days notice where practicable. Any parade organiser who gives less notice than this, is required to provide an explanation for the late notification. The Commission considers all explanations on merit. The Commission writes out to those organisers who submit late notifications to remind them of their statutory obligation to give the appropriate notice.

  The Commission did consider two notifications from LOL No 1 (over the summer of 2000) which were each submitted on a Saturday evening for a parade to take place the next day. The Commission met and issued determinations in each of these cases. The Commission had a sense that the reasons given in each case were not particularly robust, but decided to show flexibility by meeting, at extremely short notice, and considering the cases.

  Mr Beggs continued at 562 to enquire as to the number of applications for protest meetings which were rejected by the Commission over the same period. The Commission has no power to reject notifications of protest meetings and has no power to impose conditions in these cases. While the Commission is notified of protest meetings, their management and control is the responsibility of the police, possibly by employing their powers under the common law and/or public order legislation.

  In elaborating his response to Mr Burgon's question at 565, Mr Holland pointed out that the Commission does not always make determinations in a way which accepts police advice without qualification or interpretation. Mr Holland stated that it would be unfair to identify those situations but could provide examples if the Committee really wanted to know.

  The Commission still takes the view that it would be unhelpful for specific examples to be known by the wider public. The Commission is supported by the RUC's commitment to police determinations made by the Commission to the best of their ability. The Chief Constable has, under the Public Processions Northern Ireland Act 1998, recourse to apply to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to review a determination issued by the Commission under section 8.

  In response to your letter dated 7 March 2001, I would like to clarify the following points that you raised:

    —  the Commission's activities do not fall within the purview of any Ombudsman;

    —  Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 does not apply to the Commission;

    —  the date of appointment of the members of the current Commission is 19 February 2000 and the appointments are due to expire on 18 February 2002;

    —  please find attached copies of the Determinations and reviews of the Determinations in respect of St Joseph's AOH Pipe Band and The Holy Cross Accordion Band for the parade on Friday 17 March 2000 as requested*;

    —  the Chairman has nothing further to add to the items already discussed concerning Kilkeel;

    —  also attached is a copy of the Kilkeel judicial review judgment as requested[228]; and

    —  the Commission has not taken any stand over parades which are notified but do not take place. A decision by parade organisers not to hold a parade which they have previously notified can be made for a variety of reasons. The Commission does not view such cancellation or withdrawal as a breach of conditions, whether the parade is a protest parade or not.

  In response to your letter of 23 March 2001, I can confirm that in Portadown from 3 April 2000 to 28 March 2001, 95 loyalist parades were notified. Of these 60 related to the traditional Drumcree route and were considered contentious. Thirty one of the remaining 35 were considered non-contentious loyalist parades.

  I do hope this information is helpful.

28 March 2001

228   Not reported. Back

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