Exchange of Letters between the Clerk
of the Committee and the Parades Commission
LETTER FROM THE CLERK
I have been asked to seek further information
on how the Parades Commission and the Royal Ulster Constabulary
handle cases where a protest meeting has been notified in relation
to a public procession. In these circumstances, it would appear
that, besides the possibility of a determination by the Parades
Commission imposing conditions on the procession, the Royal Ulster
Constabulary may, if the statutory conditions set out in Article
4(2) of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 are met,
impose specified conditions on the protest meeting.
I should be grateful if you could let me know
how such situations are handled and whether there is any general
policy agreed between the two bodies. In particular, the Committee
is interested to know whether there is any presumption that one
or other instrument is used in these circumstances. Also, it would
be helpful if you could give some idea of the frequency of such
As the Committee hopes to conclude this inquiry
very shortly, I should be grateful for a response as soon as possible.
I am also writing, in similar terms, to Assistant Chief Constable
McQuillan of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
16 March 2001
RESPONSE FROM THE PARADES COMMISSION
Thank you for your letter of 16 March 2001.
Let me begin my response by pointing to the legislation. Section
7 of the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 requires
a person proposing to organise a protest meeting that is related
to a public procession, to give, where practicable, 14 days notice
of that proposal to the police on a prescribed form (11/3). The
form must be signed by the organiser and handed to a police officer,
not below the rank of sergeant, at the police station nearest
to the place where the protest meeting is to be held. The Chief
Constable is then obliged to ensure that a copy of the notice
is immediately sent to the Commission.
Of course, it is essential that we are aware
of any protest planned "against" a notified public procession.
This is a factor which the Commission will wish to consider in
its deliberations on that procession's notification. The organising
of a protest meeting clearly suggests contention around the related
procession and may also indicate a likelihood of, for example,
public disorder, an impact on the community or detriment to community
relations. The Commission, however, is not empowered to impose
any conditions on the protest meeting as notified. This is a matter
solely for the police. They have full responsibility in this area
and have no agreed policy with the Commission on handling protests
of this nature. I note that you have written to the police separately.
They are best placed to inform you of "how such situations
Of course, the police can and do advise the
Commission on the policing implications of a protest, not only
as notified, but also against several possible scenarios while
providing their understanding of the situation most likely to
unfold. You will appreciate the difficulty is that one does not
know, until the very moment, the true nature of any protest, although
the organiser is obliged to provide advance details on the likely
number taking part, arrangements for their control etc.
Notified protest meetings are quite infrequent,
generally numbering less than six in any year. [My apologies for
not giving a precise figure but this is not a statistic kept on
our database.] You will also appreciate that an organiser can
withdraw his notification of a protest where it appears to him
that his concerns have been addressed in the issued determination.
The latest example of this is from Kilkeel. Here a group of "Loyalists"
called off their notified protest following the Commission's determination
to restrict the route of a "Nationalist" band on St
Patrick's day (17 March 2001). The withdrawing of such a notification
does not of itself suggest that the notification itself was spurious.
The Commission has information to show that on occasion protests
which have not materialised could have been quite major should
the related processions have been unrestricted.
Finally, you will be aware that the Commission
can be asked to review any of its determinations. Such reviews
can, and have been conducted on the very eve of processions. Therefore,
should new information arise at any stage in respect of a notified
protest meeting (which impacted on the Commission's determination),
the Commission would take this into consideration in its review
31 March 2001