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


Exchange of Letters between the Clerk of the Committee and the Parades Commission


  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 situations.

  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


  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 are handled".

  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 decision.

31 March 2001

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