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Parade and Protest:
A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland


This section discusses a number of options that have been raised by those involved in some way with the issue of parading as a means of resolving the problem of disputed parades. Some of these could be acted on in the short term, while others would need longer term planning and implementation. These are not recommendations but proposals for discussion. There are no simple answers to these ongoing disputes. Nevertheless, some changes are urgently needed since history tells us that the parading issue is capable of causing major inter-communal civil disturbances.

The control of demonstrations, parades and crowds is not a problem restricted to Northern Ireland but is one that is shared with many societies. For instance, two issues that have been the subject of debate in England over recent years has been controlling the often violent behaviour of football fans and the increasing crowds and disruption at the Notting Hill Carnival. A number of questions have been raised and debated in relation to these events: Who should be responsible for the behaviour of people in public spaces? What rights do those people living adjacent to football grounds and the carnival have? Where does the responsibility of a football club or event organiser finish and those of the police begin? Who should pick up the bill for policing? What is the role of elected representatives in resolving these issues? What public accountability should be expected of people who organise events in public areas? These debates are ongoing although some of the issues have been addressed by Cohen (1993) and by Guilianotti, Bonney and Hepworth (1994). At the heart of all these problems are issues of civil rights. At what point should the rights of the individual to express themselves be seen as secondary to the more general good of the community?

In looking at parades there are a number of issues that need to be approached. There are clearly problems with the issue of traditional rights of way but there are also questions raised about the control of parades, the number of parades and the cost of parades. All these issues have to be weighed against the rights of individuals and groups to political and cultural expression. The ideas discussed below are:

  1. The need for negotiation and use of mediation.
  2. Guidelines or general principles governing the rights to parade.
  3. A parading commission.
  4. Use of the law.
  5. The issue of responsibility - voluntary and imposed constraints on parades.
  6. An independent parading tribunal.
  7. Parade ‘planning permission'.

12.1 Negotiation and Mediation
At present there is no formal mechanism for resolving a parade dispute. Throughout 1995 parade organisers and the protesters were encouraged to discuss the issue among themselves and come to some form of compromise. While this appeared to be an obvious step to most outsiders in fact it proved almost impossible to achieve. To our knowledge it was only on the Ormeau Road that a relatively lengthy period - a number of months - of negotiation, was undertaken. But this persistence was only achieved because of the equally persistent nature of the dispute on the road, and in the end no long term agreement was reached. Elsewhere, where the dispute concerned a single parade the main method of dealing with the tension would probably best be described as crisis management. This was due in part to the fact that parade organisers only need to announce a parade seven days in advance, which does not allow much time for negotiation, in part to the lack of any accepted procedure to adjudicate disputes, except the Public Order Order, and in part to the mutual hostility and suspicion of the opposing parties.

Section Eleven demonstrated there are fundamental differences of perception that make it extremely difficult to reach any agreement. Whilst nationalists read all attempts to parade as part of an ongoing Orange conspiracy to dominate them, loyalists see nationalist objections to parades as part of a wider desire among republican activists to destroy Orangeism. For both sides it is a zero-sum game, a situation where one side will win and the other will lose and therefore it is better to stand one’s ground rather than be seen to give any sign of movement. Within the loyalist community, any reduction in traditional parading rights is seen as a further blow in their defence of their British identity. The fears are so great that even those loyalists who do not parade are often prepared to defend the rights of those who do want to parade. As one interested party put it, ‘they see the narrow ground as getting narrower’. Even when face to face negotiations have taken place, as on the Ormeau Road, the lack of trust is so great that any agreement that may be reached is in danger of collapse when it is subjected to public scrutiny and outside political pressures. The representatives of the different groups can only sell the agreement to their constituent groups by giving an interpretation that favours their position. This may well be viewed by the other community as a misrepresentation and therefore substantially different from their interpretation of the compromise. In many of these issues the parading disputes are a local reflection of the problems of negotiating the broader peace process.

In practice all attempts to find a compromise demanded the involvement of outside parties acting as some form of mediator. Those involved last year included the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland (Portadown), the Quakers (Ormeau Road), local politicians (Derry, Springfield Road) and the RUC. But third party involvement also raised problems about neutrality and suspicions of a hidden agenda that outsiders may bring with them. Residents groups and those involved in the republican parades remain very suspicious of the motives of the police in general and loyalists are equally suspicious of the residents groups and anyone who is seen to be trying to force them to compromise.

In some ways the role of mediation has been misunderstood. In part this is due to the unfamiliarity with the idea and in part due the public way that the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland were involved in the dispute at Drumcree. Mediation is not the same as crisis management Mediation is not about brokering last minute deals or about finding short term solutions that merely displace the problem from today to next week or next year. To be effective, mediation should take place over a longer period of time. In this process the mediators act as a third party to facilitate communication between groups: they discuss the issues in confidence, aim to improve each sides understanding of the other’s position and by encouraging creative thinking aim to achieve an acceptable accommodation and resolution to the problem. Mediation can not be imposed on groups, they must we willing and desirous of finding a compromise. Unfortunately when the political heat goes out of the situation, at the end of the marching season, there is little pressure upon interested groups to search for a resolution and diffuse the issue for future years. This is not, we might add, due to a lack of trying by those that have acted as negotiators and mediators.

The different perceptions held by interested parties make any form of mediation difficult, but there are also problems with the role and status of the representatives of those parading and protesting. Loyalist groups do not believe that the leaders or prominent figures in the residents groups represent all the residents of a given area. They have refused to recognise the status of the groups, pointed to the republican background of particular figures and argued that they are no more than Sinn Féin fronts. In each case this is used as a reason not to talk to the residents groups, after all if the leading Unionist politicians refuse to talk to Sinn Féin why should grassroots unionists do so? But there are also problems with the representatives of the loyal institutions. While they have elected officers, in practice these are little more than first among equals, they are not leaders. They can negotiate but they can not agree to a deal. Lodge officials are relatively powerless and this means that they are uncertain of being able to sell any agreement to other members of their organisation. There is a further problem in that lodge officers are elected annually and a deal agreed by officers one year may be rejected by newly elected officials the following year. Furthermore, lodge officers can only negotiate on behalf of their own institution, even if they are a member of other institutions they may have no authority to speak for them. These factors have often confused the issue for nationalists and raised questions of good faith. In fact negotiators on both sides always insist that they must secure agreement for any compromise from a broader constituency. While this is admirably democratic it does pose problems when time is tight. This in turn emphasises the importance of Paisley, and to a lesser extent Trimble, at Drumcree. They had the status to negotiate an agreement, but they also had the authority to bring the crowd along with them. Elsewhere, deals agreed through third parties were always subject to subsequent ratification by residents groups or loyal orders. This took time and offered no certainty of success.

A further complication in the process of mediation is that any agreement inevitably needs to be underwritten by the RUC. Given the level of distrust with which the RUC are held, in particular by nationalists, problems can also arise over who will guarantee that the deal is honoured. It becomes almost inevitable that overtime those involved in negotiation and mediation are also pulled in to the environment of mistrust. It becomes increasingly hard for them to be seen as honest brokers as the results of attempts to negotiate became public. If the perceptions remain that loyalists will lose something or that nationalists will be expected to compromise too far then they become less inclined to talk to intermediaries in the first place.

The work done by intermediaries up to this point has only served to indicate the desperate need for a more general approach to the problem. If those outside the disputes are expecting the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland, the Quakers, or any other intermediary to come up with an overall answer then they are going to be disappointed. Whilst they can be of great assistance in specific areas, no amount of honest intentions, skill, time and patience on behalf of these people will overcome the wider problems of mistrust and a lack of desire to compromise. Indeed, if the parading disputes continue at their present level and resentment increases, it may well become harder not easier, to find negotiated accommodation.

12.2 Guidelines for Parades
One attempt to overcome the present piecemeal approach to parade disputes has been made by the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community. They produced a set of general guidelines, in February 1996, which they would like to apply to all public demonstrations. Their six guidelines are:

  1. The Public Order legislation is a totally inadequate way of dealing with the issue of parades.

  2. People have the right to march, but that right is not unconditional and must be exercised with consideration for the rights and sensitivities of others.

  3. The residents of areas through which parades intend to pass have the right to withhold their consent to those parades if they feel the parades are offensive.

  4. In general, people should have the right to parade in the commercial centres of villages, towns and cities. However, loyalist parades should avoid villages and towns which are overwhelmingly nationalist and nationalist parades should avoid villages and towns which are overwhelmingly loyalist or unionist.

  5. Traditional march routes can and will change over time to take into account demographic changes in the population living along those routes.

  6. March organisers must give assurances about the behaviour of marchers and those who associate themselves with marches, and must ensure that sectarian provocation is avoided. Permission for future marches should be dependent on those assurances being fulfilled.

The LOCC believe that the adoption of these principles would protect ‘the right to march’ and also protect communities from ‘tension, fear and provocation’. They assert the rights of all groups to use the commercial centres of villages, towns and cities, but point out that such rights are not unconditional. They claim that traditional parades can not override the rights of communities but that demographic changes have to be taken into account. Furthermore parade organisers must give assurances over the behaviour of those taking part while permission for future parades would be dependent upon that good behaviour.

The LOCC principles cover a number of issues. The legal issues will be examined in section 12.4, and the issue of behaviour and responsibility considered in sections 12.5 and 12.7.

Consent or Consensus
The principle of consent is at the heart of the LOCC argument. The LOCC state that parade organisers must have the consent of those communities through which the parades pass. A report produced by the Pat Finucane Centre put forward similar recommendations. The Garvaghy Road Residents Group and some loyalist residents who object to nationalist parades have also made this argument. Nationalist parades were regularly stopped under Stormont using much the same reasoning. Indeed, one could argue that the state of Northern Ireland was also set up using similar principles: the majority in the six counties, would not give their consent to Home Rule and demanded a separate state. And, furthermore, the Framework Document and the Downing Street Agreement use the idea of consent in a number of contexts.

The principle of consent is central to the workings of democracy, and yet it is far from a simple principle to apply. In what areas should consent be sought? How often should consent be sought? How should consent be tested - by survey, by local referendum, by public meeting - and who should test it? At what point should it be deemed that an area no longer consents to a parade taking place - when 50% of the population are against it or should it be 75% or more? Consent may well be an important principle for judging the merits of parades but it must be realised that it is not simple to put into practice. Not only are the mechanics of such a form of local democracy not in place at present but it is not easy to see when they would ever be put in place.

The LOCC principles suggest that the consent of the residents is an absolute requirement before a parade or political event can take place in, or near, any area. The introduction of such a principle based upon local community groups could have far reaching, long term, effects, for open political expression. Therefore, a revision to such a principle might emphasise that whilst communities do not have an absolute right to veto the political expression of others, their feelings should play an important role in any considerations that are made. It is important to remember that the annual recurrence of many loyalist parades developed in the last 100 years when the absolute right of the loyal orders to parade, whenever and wherever they wanted, was rarely if ever questioned. Crucially, similar rights of expression were not afforded to the nationalist community. Put simply, in the area of public political expression there was clear discrimination. It could, therefore, be argued that whilst absolute rights of veto would not create a healthy democratic climate there is still a continuing imbalance of political expression, albeit as a legacy from past political structures as well as continuing political divisions. Under new conditions therefore it might be argued that no Orange parade necessarily has the right to take place, however ‘traditional’ they may be, since those ‘traditional’ rights were based upon a grave imbalance of power. But it might also be argued that no Orange parade can necessarily be excluded exclusively on the principle that local consent has not been gained. In the same way, loyalist communities do not have the absolute right to exclude demonstrations from their areas and particularly from town centres. Perhaps it would be of more use to talk in terms of ‘consensus', rather than ‘consent’, when examining the right to parade, this in turn would re-emphasise the need for ongoing dialogue between the opposing parties. However, at the moment consensus has connotations of compromise which neither side wishes to make.

The LOCC principles have received a broad acceptance within the nationalist community but there have been no formal responses to them from within the unionist community. These principles may well be able to be used as the basis for a more widely accepted series of guidelines, but they would need the acceptance of the unionist community to be workable. The questions that we have raised over the issue of consent illustrates some of the questions that would need to be addressed to achieve a more broadly acceptable series of guidelines for parades.

12.3 A Parading Commission
One way of exploring and developing the idea of a set of general principles, and taking a broader view of the entire issue of parades would be to establish a Parading Commission. The idea of a commission has already been used to try to overcome difficulties in the peace process regarding the decommissioning of weapons, while the earlier Opsahl Commission had a much wider ranging brief with regard to the political stalemate in the north. A Parading Commission could be set up with a specific brief and a clear timetable, it could be asked to draw up a broadly acceptable series of guidelines which both parade organisers and protesters would be expected to follow. As an extension it could also be asked to make a series of recommendations as to how the existing disputes might be resolved.

A parading commission could either be made up of neutral or independent parties, or it could include representatives of both communities under an independent chair. In either case the commission could take submissions from all those with an interest in the issue. The commission could evaluate the general ideas that have been addressed by the LOCC but it could also address some of the more practical constraints that are regularly imposed on parades, and consider whether they might be more generally applied (see 11.6). It could consider the more abstract principles of ‘consent’ and ‘tradition’ and evaluate the arguments between the ‘right to parade’ and the ‘right not to suffer parades’, which are so often invoked but have not been examined in detail. The commission would then produce a set of general guidelines upon which the right of public political expression could be based (see Bryson and McCartney 1994: 154-156 for a similar suggestion).

The commission could also be asked to address the specific parades that have been opposed in recent years and perhaps offer a blue-print for the forthcoming marching season. Although it would only have an advisory role, and the final decisions would be left to the RUC, the commission could offer an overview and make some suggestions on how each of the parades in Belfast, Bellaghy, Derry, Downpatrick, Dunloy, Lurgan, Portadown, Rosslea and other places might be approached. But it would present the suggest ions as a package, addressing the marching season as a single extended event. Such an overview might suggest a different pattern from the present one whereby each dispute is seen as another step on a one way path of gains or losses.

There could be a number of advantages to a commission:

  1. It could be established relatively quickly and easily and without legislation.

  2. It could be given a limited timescale and be expected to report early next year.

  3. It would stimulate a public debate on the issue of parades outside of the marching season.

  4. It could offer a blueprint for addressing the ongoing disputes.

  5. It would create a widely agreed set of principles which apply to both parade organisers and protesters.

  6. The issue would be addressed by force of argument rather than force of numbers.

The commission then could work on the same principles as mediation and negotiation. It would try to seek a workable compromise over the general right to parade and it could advise, or make recommendations, on specific disputes. The failure of any of the local level attempts at compromise may imply that a commission would have no more success. However, the very fact that it would provide an overview which would include all current disputes may mean that each side would see both gains and losses emerging from the process and we could thereby move away from the zero-sum game.

While the aim of the commission would be to address some of the immediate issues surrounding parades, it could also be asked to evaluate some of the longer term ideas, such as a permanent tribunal, more formal ‘planning permission’ and changes to the legislation which we discuss below.

12.4 Use of the Law
The first of the six LOCC principles states that they consider the existing public order legislation to be inadequate. It has also been suggested by other parties that new legislation may be required to resolve the issue of parading rights. The authors of this study have no legal expertise and can only make very general points; it may well be that some of the options discussed below would require a legal basis and therefore new legislation. At the time of writing there has been no suggestion that a change in legislation is being actively considered. One alternative option, however, might be to examine the way the present legislation is being used.

Despite their criticism of present legislation, the LOCC have been willing to use legal means in an attempt to have injunctions placed on parades along the Ormeau Road. At the same time the preamble to the LOCC principles also emphasises the need to deal with the ‘tension, fear and intimidation’ that may accompany parades. Only Part II of the Public Order (NI) Order 1987, which is concerned with ‘Processions and Meetings’ has been invoked in the current dispute, but Part III of the act deals with ‘Acts intended or likely to stir up hatred or arouse fear’ which LOCC say is a large part of the problem.

Given the nature of the state of Northern Ireland since its foundation and the persistent violence of the past thirty years, then many of the symbols that appear in loyalist and republican parades can and will arouse fear in the other community. A UVF or Republican flag can appear threatening, many of the songs, tunes and chants that are part of the ‘folk’ cultures in both communities can be perceived as intimidating. This situation can only be alleviated over the course of time. However, a greater understanding of those fears from parade organisers could be reflected in the actions of those on parade in sensitive areas. Alternatively, this approach may demand the more robust policing of sectarianism in public demonstrations. The problem with this approach is always the judgement of intimidation. Article 9, Paragraph 4 of the Public Order Order indicates that intent has to be proved. Prosecution in such cases is notoriously difficult and this is perhaps why the legislation is not widely used (see Bryson and McCartney 1994:144-156 for a more detailed discussion on the Public Order Order).

Nevertheless, difficult though it might be, perhaps it is time for judgements to be made on the broader issue of public behaviour at parades. Some aspects that could be considered are fairly obvious. They include the general behaviour of both those on parade and spectators including ‘hangers on’, the music that is played and the chanting that accompanies particular music, the flags and banners that are carried, the size and length of the parade as well as its make up and the reason for the parade. Many of these have already been subject to both police and voluntary constraints and will be considered in more detail in the next sections.

12.5 Responsible Parading
It is sometimes forgotten that despite the ethnically divided nature of residential areas across Northern Ireland, all areas are still, to some extent, mixed. Almost all residential areas include some Catholics or some Protestants, almost all areas contain people who consider themselves British and people who consider themselves Irish. The issue of responsibility is not only about the conduct of Orange parades on the Ormeau Road or republican parades in Suffolk but also the conduct of parades in currently uncontentious areas such as Banbridge or Crossmaglen. The object of controls is not to mute a political position but to reduce the overt threat to others. One feature of a set of broad guidelines could focus attention on the need for parade organisers to take greater responsibility for the totality of the event.

One recent example can illustrate the argument. The Orange Order has claimed that the bands were a key factor in the increase in problems at parades (Montgomery and Whitten 1995:34-3 5), to an extent this was also implicit in an earlier report produced by the Centre for the Study of Conflict (Bryan, Fraser and Dunn 1995). While the rise of blood and thunder bands is partly responsible for the increase in the number of parades and their overt sectarian nature, it is parades organised by the loyal orders that have caused most controversy. Even in those cases where bandsmen have been prominent in causing trouble it is Orange lodges that have given support to the bands by hiring them, and it is Orangeism which is perceived as the cultural root of parading by those outside the institutions. It is not adequate to say ‘we can not control the bands’ or ‘we are not responsible for the people on the pavements’. Parade organisers should recognise that they must take responsibility for all aspects of the parade and all those features that might cause offence or disturbance to other people. The loyal orders have a wide range of rules and regulations which the participants of parades are expected to follow: they provide marshals or stewards at parades, they demand that bands being hired sign a contract, and they do - on occasions - take actions if members or bands transgress the rules. However, the recognition that greater consideration should be given to the total content of parades, which is made by Montgomery and Whitten, can only prove of real benefit to the public perception of the Order if these rules and constraints are known to those outside the parading body. The loyal orders have taken many steps to address criticism of their parades, part of the problem is that they have failed to publicise these acts for fear of being seen to compromise with protesters (specific constraints on parades are considered in more detail in section 12.7 below). It is not just a matter of imposing rules and regulations on a parade, it is also important to be seen to do so.

How could parade organisers take greater responsibility for their parades? Some of these matters could be dealt with swiftly and voluntarily, while others may need to be imposed on parade organisers.

General Behaviour
The situation at parades could be improved by some relatively simple measures. Parade organisers could publicise what sort of behaviour is and is not acceptable on parades. Sectarian chanting, the carrying of threatening symbols, playing louder in front of churches, the taunting of crowds - no matter what the provocation - should all be specifically dealt with. Many of these activities are already covered by rules of the loyal orders, but the suspicion remains that their enforcement is haphazard and often nonexistent, and that little responsibility is taken for spectators or ‘hangers on’. Some members of the loyal orders do put considerable time and effort into trying to ensure that parades are disciplined and peaceful. Nevertheless, parades are often high spirited occasions which involve a collection of disparate groups and individuals and which also attract a less controllable range of spectators.

Stewarding or Marshalling
To implement more control over the general behaviour of all people at parades would require an extensive use of stewards, who were clearly designated to do that job. At football grounds the stewards are expected to watch the spectators at all times; this means that they are not watching the game. At present most of the stewards at Orange parades are largely indistinguishable from the rest of the people on parade and indeed they often walk with the parade. Whilst at smaller events stewards may need to walk alongside the parade, for the larger parades more stewards may be required and they could be made responsible for a defined stretch of road or area. These stationary stewards could be expected to control pedestrians, spectators and traffic in a more organised manner than the rather haphazard way that parades are marshalled at present. Any incidents should be reported and dealt with in accordance with the guidelines the organising institution has laid down. If those organising the parade were unable to satisfy the police that the event would be adequately controlled then permission for the parade could be refused. If stewarding at the parade proved inadequate then questions would be raised over the organisers right to parade in the future. It might even be worth considering some sort of training for stewards.

Community Liaison
Stewards could also be expected to liaise closely with, and function as a contact for people from the local community. At present it is often difficult for residents to find the appropriate person to deal with in any of the loyal orders. Matters might improve if there was better liaison with local community groups. Information about when and where parades are taking place is often hard to come by. This may well be because organisers fear for the security of the parade. In a situation where the security risk has been reduced it would be advantageous for a community to be aware that a parade is going to take place and how long it would last. Areas of particular sensitivity along a parade route, such as nationalist estates, churches or hospitals could demand more extensive stewarding or could involve stewards from both communities. Cooperative stewarding could eventually reduce the scale of the police presence that is currently deemed necessary. A liaison officer within each organisation could also deal with complaints about behaviour on the parade from residents, and could inform the complainants what action had been taken. All these matters would increase the public accountability of parade organisers and perhaps help to allay some of the general suspicion felt in nationalist communities towards Orange parades.

Voluntary Re-routing
The ultimate voluntary constraint is to decide not to parade along a particular route. Such action need not preclude that route from being used in the future, but simply accepts that given present community sensitivities, and given the historical resonance of parades, an alternative route should be taken. Such situations already exists in a number of areas in Northern Ireland - areas where it would be seen as quite impractical for loyalist or republican parades to go. In a number of the current disputed areas, residents have suggested that re-routing need not be permanent, but a voluntary re-routing would be seen as an act of good faith, and a step towards addressing real concerns.

Externally Imposed Constraints
As well as actions the organisers of parades might undertake to control behaviour, there may also be statutory ways in which the control of parades might be improved. At the moment the RUC can, and do, impose a range of constraints on parade organisers (see 12.7). It may well be within the remit of an independent commission or tribunal to explore the range of possible constraints more fully. It is here that the comparison with English football crowds becomes interesting. There has been considerable pressure placed upon English football clubs to control their own supporters, which has not always been an easy proposition. Many clubs feel they have been made responsible for things that are more to do with the ills of society than with football. Nevertheless, over the last fifteen years all football clubs have been forced to take greater responsibility for the control of spectators at their ground. This was forced upon them by a combination of legislation, the financial penalties of falling gates, and punitive penalties introduced by authorities, such as UEFA and the FA. Most clubs are also actively involved in schemes to reduce racism at matches and there appears to be a growing awareness in Glasgow that sectarianism in the football culture of the city needs to be dealt with. Reduced intimidation at football grounds has, in England at least, played a part in increasing the crowds going through the gates.

Are there any lessons this example could teach us? Parades take place on open public streets not enclosed grounds. However, the organisers of parades have authority over the proceedings and should be expected to take more responsibility for what takes place during the parades. At present we have a situation where groups appear to be ‘parading without responsibility’: if trouble occurs the blame is often laid elsewhere.

Financial Responsibility
One recent constraint imposed on football clubs in England is to pay for the costs of providing adequate policing. It has been mooted that parade organisers should be responsible for the costs of policing parades in Northern Ireland. The RUC Chief Constable ‘s Annual Report regularly notes the drain on resources resulting from intensive policing of parades. The cost of policing the events of July last year alone was estimated to be over £2 million. Clearly, expecting parade organisers to pay for all policing costs would be prohibitive. However, one suggestion made in the course of this study was that organisers could be asked to put up a bond, or take out insurance, against damage or violent behaviour. It is not unusual for groups and organisations who utilise the public areas, such as race organisations, motorists, building contractors; to cover themselves for financial liabilities. Of course there might be issues of which complicate determination of liability: provocative behaviour from opponents of a parade, or agents provocateurs. Nevertheless, such a financial requirement might force parade organisers to be more aware of the wider implications of their actions.

These are possible ways through which much of the tension that builds up over parades could be addressed before it erupts into violence. These suggestions ask questions of those organising the parades and in practice will make greater demands upon the way they run their parades. Indeed, this might mean that fewer parades are organised, but the result of that may also be to improve the climate in which parades take place, to reduce the amount of policing that needs to take place, and eventually to make parades more acceptable to the wider community. Those rules that already exist over parades need to be made more public and better enforced and serious consideration would need to be given to a new set of guidelines. Those guidelines might, for instance clearly stipulate the actions of those on the parade when in the area of a Roman Catholic church, even in predominantly Protestant areas, routes might be redesigned to avoid Catholic churches. These sorts of measures were not uncommon in the 1950s and 1960s and are still used in some localities at the present. But there are clearly areas where voluntary changes would be welcomed and could ease tension. It should be clear that these changes will not solve immediate problems but would hopefully reduce the amount of problems in the future. Nevertheless, much of the initiative in this area needs to come from the organisers of parades.

12.6 A Parading Tribunal
If a directly negotiated compromise is widely regarded as the ideal means of resolving the disputes, the failure of disputants to agree to talk to each other has led to widespread suggestions that an independent body should be set up to adjudicate on the matter. This idea was suggested by the then Chief Constable, John Hermon, in his Annual Report of 1985. In an interview in the Belfast Telegraph he offered some elaboration on his thinking:

My inclination, and it is coming round to a firm view, is that it would be better to have an independent body examine the propriety of a parade being allowed into a certain area. The police could refer any notice of a contentious parade to a tribunal. They would state their views as professional police officers and the organisers would be able to present their case in justification. Local people through their representatives, could express their view (BT 1-5-86).

There seems to be no precedent for such a body dealing with parades or other forms of public political expression. However, given the large numbers of parades every year, the continuous growth in numbers and the increasing costs and disruption they can cause there is a good argument for an independent body to oversee all parades. A comparison can be made with the area of employment which has been subject to legislative constraints. Laws governing equal opportunities and fair employment practices as well as tribunals for the redress of unfair dismissal or industrial disputes are common to most modem western societies. Whilst the need for such laws and bodies is probably universally accepted, they are also often treated with suspicion. This has been particularly true in Northern Ireland where many Protestants see the fair employment system as inevitably reducing their chances of employment. Nevertheless, employment practices are not as politically contentious as they were thirty years ago and, despite criticisms, progress has been made in redressing the balance between employment opportunities between the two communities (FEC Annual Report 1996, IN 29-3-96, Sheehan 1995). Could the area of public parades benefit from similar legislation and structures?

The idea of a parading tribunal has received support from many quarters, but little flesh has been put on the bones of this idea. This section suggests possible ways in which a tribunal might operate. Other possible structures might be possible. Again, these ideas are offered as a stimulus to further discussion.

A Judicial Tribunal
Any tribunal that would to be expected to impose rulings on parade disputes would require a legal status and a formal authority. At the same time, to be widely accepted, and therefore to be successful, it would also need a substantial degree of legitimacy from among the population of Northern Ireland. A voluntary body might be useful in encouraging negotiation and general discussion of the many connected issues and it may provide a forum in which voluntary guidelines for parading and protesting may be agreed (see 12.3), but without legal status such a body would only be able to advise on disputes and would not be able to impose decisions.

A tribunal would need authority to underwrite its decisions and would also need to be recognised as even handed and independent. How does one ensure that such a body can seen as independent and yet have some power? On the one hand, nationalists would expect such a body to be as far removed form the forces of the state as possible, before they could put any faith in it. On the other hand, to have practical power, and to gain the acceptance of many in the loyalist community, it would need to be set up within existing legal and policing structures. Clearly, any direct involvement either by the police or by government officials would be problematic. However, the present willingness of some of the residents groups to take legal action in advance of their demands suggests that they do see the judiciary as having some independence from other forces of the state. Possibly, therefore, a panel which is chaired by a member of the judiciary with wide civil rights experience might have some hope of being accepted.

A judicial tribunal could be brought into play over contentious parades. It could be asked to deliberate on the matter by the police or by the Secretary of State. It could take evidence from all interested parties before arriving at a decision. Its decision could be forwarded to the Secretary of State who might then act on it, in which case the decision would ultimately be a political one. Or its authority could have the force of law and the police would be expected to proceed according to the tribunal’s decision.

Local Committees
It has been suggested that one of the problems of a judicial tribunal might be that it would pay insufficient consideration to local particularities. Therefore, any such system might be set up on a more local basis. This would entail community representatives coming together to make decisions on how particular local parades should be dealt with. One obvious group of representatives that might be used in this situation are local councillors, since, in theory at least, local councillors that have a democratic mandate to represent the people in their particular area. They may well be able to represent the views of those not taking to the streets to march or protest. A number of groups have criticised the apparent lack of involvement of local councillors in the ongoing disputes, although we are aware of some exceptions. Perhaps local committees could be formed from councillors, church leaders, representatives of local community groups, residents and parade organisers to try and resolve problems. Solutions that appear from this sort of base would have advantages over those imposed from outside and could make the work of policing easier. Unfortunately, recent experience suggests that such local committees are difficult to organise. The repercussions of a lack of community agreement is that decisions would have to be imposed from above. It is of course possible that such local initiatives that do develop could be represented in the wider processes. Alternatively, it may be better to devise a system with that includes both local representatives and a more removed, neutral chairperson.

Public Order vs. Civil Rights
Clearly, in any future situation, direct policing of all public demonstrations will always be necessary and certain decisions will always have to be made by police officers. However, as things stand the only principles the RUC have to work with are those enshrined in the Public Order Order. These effectively ensure that the keeping of public order is the only priority on which the police can act. As a result, decisions are made that appear quite at odds with ideas of ‘rights’ and ‘justice’. As it stands republicans are allowed to parade into the centre of Belfast but they are not allowed into the centre of Lurgan. The Apprentice Boys were allowed to parade along the lower Ormeau Road so that they can board a bus in the city centre which will take them to a parade 80 miles away, but Orangemen were not allowed to walk the same route to join the VE Day commemorations in the city centre. A number of church parades, which normally attract little interest are stopped at the Ormeau Bridge whereas the larger Twelfth parade which causes major inconvenience is allowed to take place. Orangemen are allowed to parade in Downpatrick town centre, whereas a local band is not. Whilst the necessity for pragmatic policing decisions will never be completely removed it would seem reasonable that a system might be introduced on which more consistent decisions could be made. A tribunal could therefore be expected to take a much wider range of factors into consideration when arriving at its decision. Such a procedure could address a number of issues that are regularly seen as problems in the present method of deciding whether a parade should go ahead. These include:

  1. The decision could be based on a wide range of issues rather than just public order.

  2. The reasoning behind the decision would be made public.

  3. The police would no longer be responsible for deciding whether a parade should proceed or not.

  4. It would also be clear in advance of the parade whether the organisers or protesters had the law on their side.

  5. Decisions could be made about a number of parades well in advance. For instance a tribunal could decide on whether any parades should be allowed along the lower Ormeau Road, and if so which ones.

  6. There would be time, and a procedure, to appeal against a decision.

In general, a tribunal of some kind would make the issue of parades the subject of debate and of reasoned argument. It would bring the issue into the public domain and ensure that the outcome was open to public scrutiny.

12.7 Parade ‘Planning’ Permission
The idea of a tribunal has been considered in relation to disputed parades. However, a more formal system might be constructed along the principles of planning legislation which would be applied to all parades. Such a procedure would reinforce the fact that all parades impose to a greater or lesser extent on a community. It would reinforce the idea that organisers have a responsibility for the parade in its broadest impact. The idea of some form of ‘planning permission’ would be an extension of the current system whereby parade organisers inform the police of their intention of holding a parade seven days in advance. As with the current procedure, most parades would be agreed with no controversy and a minimum of fuss. But a more open system would give people more information about parades planned for each area.

A formal application to hold an annual parade would have to be made well in advance of the parade and the information about all planned parades in an area would be made public. This could be done by publishing the details in a local newspaper and listing them in a public place.

When the demand for seven days notice for all parades was introduced in 1987 it was greeted with protests, but increasing the notice should not cause practical problems to parade organisers since the dates of most parades are known well in advance. Would it be unreasonable to require parade organisers to advise of their parades three months or even six months in advance? Or even require them to list all the parades and their routes at the beginning of each year? Obviously there would need to be a ‘fast track’ procedure for ‘single issue’ parades but since these tend to be less controversial that should not be too great a problem.

If most parades are traditional and unchanging it is difficult to see the objections and there may well be hidden benefits for parade organisers. One of the complaints raised by residents is that there are always new parades being ‘invented’ or that parades take them by surprise. Last year there was considerable confusion over the number of parades that would be going down the Ormeau Road. Publicising the dates of parades, the probable size, the likely time the parade would take place and the reasons for the parade may well go some way to increasing a wider understanding of loyalist parades and dispelling the suspicion and confusion that arises through misinformation. If nothing else it could be seen as gesture of goodwill which costs nothing.

Constraints and Objections
At present parade organisers sometimes appear to have an unconstrained right to hold a parade whenever they wish, but as the number of parades grows they impinge more frequently on those who do not parade. Constraints, responsibilities and requirements are formally imposed on a range of activities that once were unregulated: cycle races and motor races both require permission to dominate the public roads and while they are very different from parades, parade organisers should at very least recognise their responsibility to the broader sphere of civil society. Notification and a formal request for permission would be an acknowledgement that parades impose upon other people to some extent. At the moment there is no indication of the degree of support for, or opposition to, parades in many areas and in the vast majority of cases request for a parade could easily be dealt with by a tribunal.

Such a system would also allow any objections to a parade to be heard and considered, in confidence if necessary. It would give an insight into a range of attitudes to parades and might allow complaints to be dealt with before they become major issues. Having requested permission, the organisers could make their case, any opponents could state their objections, the RUC could offer their assessment and the tribunal could adjudicate. In such a system both the arguments, the reasoning and the conditions or terms of permission would be open to public scrutiny. Conditions may be imposed so that parades would not be allowed into particular areas. However, there may be no need to stop particular parades or even reduce the number of parades but simply need to ensure that organisers accept their responsibility to the wider community. By making the decision well enough in advance there would also be time for appeals to be made if the decision was felt to be unfair in any way.

Imposing Conditions
The decision to allow a parade, to reroute a parade or to impose other conditions on the organisers could be based on a broad range of considerations. These could include such factors as the willingness to enter discussions or to offer concessions, either by objectors or organisers; the conduct at previous events or agreeing to abide by conditions imposed; the changes in local conditions or if the political situation dictates that tensions are particularly high then that also could be taken into consideration. A broad range of restrictions or conditions could also be placed upon events.

In 1995 most emphasis was placed on the rerouting of parades, but the RUC can and do demand a range of specific conditions on parade organisers. In some cases the loyal orders have imposed restraints on themselves. Often these conditions are not publicised, but this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand some loyalists would argue that agreeing to any constraints is a denial of their rights, but on the other hand failing to publicise voluntarily imposed constraints can suggest a lack of willingness to compromise and fail to show goodwill where it does exist. For example the Apprentice Boys voluntarily imposed a number of constraints on bands and regalia to ensure they were allowed to parade the city walls in Derry last summer and the local Belfast Walker Club have long restricted the flags they carry along the Ormeau Road. However, in both cases the impact of these self-imposed restrictions was lost because they were not announced publicly.

The sorts of constraints that have either been offered or imposed by the loyal orders in recent disputes include:

  1. rerouting some parades along a route in return for a guarantee that others will be allowed;

  2. rerouting the return leg of a parade;

  3. furling flags;

  4. restricting the range of flags;

  5. restraining the number of bands on the parade;

  6. restraining the type of bands on parade;

  7. restraining the type of music played;

  8. walking in silence;

  9. parading early in the morning;

  10. restricting access to parts of the route to supporters.

Any of these constraints can be imposed voluntarily by parade organisers or they could be imposed by an outside authority. Voluntary constraint has often been concealed from the public debate because it is perceived to be an act of weakness, to be a response to pressure from the other side. But there is another side to this argument. Voluntary restraints can also be imposed from a position of strength, they can be a recognition that a complaint has some validity and must be addressed. As part of a zero-sum game a constraint is seen as a loss, in a more open system a voluntarily imposed constraint can be seen as an attempt to improve a situation and to work towards a more widely acceptable means of maintaining and developing cultural traditions.

Guaranteeing the Right to Parade
The imposition of constraints on a parade need not be seen as a one-way street, but as a way of neutralising a dispute and preparing the way for better mutual understanding. Part of the problem at present is that all concessions are seen as part of a wider attack on loyalist parades, and that any concessions will lead to yet more demands in the future. Independent arbitration may be able to guarantee future rights, impose constraints for a limited period or reverse restrictions.

The members of the LOCC have suggested that they might be willing to accept parades in the future, but present lack of trust undermines such an offer. An independent body could provide longer term guarantees that concessions were not a one-way street. It could evaluate ongoing discussions, it could suggest that constraints are imposed for one, two or more parades or that they would be reviewed the following year. The body could also suggest parameters for protesters and impose demands or conditions on the ways that parades are challenged. By introducing such a system it may be possible that it is the force of argument and the ongoing behaviour of both parade participants and protesters that are considered in deciding on the propriety of a parade and not the weight of numbers on the day. The police would be seen to be acting on a publicly recognised agreement. Importantly, if one particular group uses force in a given situation then that may well prejudice future decisions. The right to parade or to protest at parades would therefore be balanced by the demand for responsibility to the wider society.

The Rights of Residents
We have tried to suggest ways in which parading may be made more acceptable to as many people as possible, and we have suggested ways that parade organisers may seek to address the complaints of residents when parades pass in, or near, nationalist areas. However, one must also acknowledge that any number of concessions may still fail to make parades acceptable to residents; that past hurts are still too raw and that the only compromise that goes far enough may be for the parade organisers to re-route their parade away from the area in question. Such a re-routing need not be seen as permanent. It could remain for a set number of years and might be linked to local community education programmes. The members of the LOCC have left the door open to the loyal orders to come into their community and begin to build trust. In the immediate future it would seem that steps towards a resolution of the parading issue would have to be addressed at both local level and through more wide-ranging initiatives.

12.8 Conclusions
In looking for ways in which to produce a better environment for public political expression a number of levels have been considered, ranging from the practical local short term measures to more abstract notions of collective and individual rights and responsibilities. None of the suggestions that have been discussed would be easy to implement without the good will of communities, nor would they necessarily have an immediate effect. The idea of an independent body to address the issue is currently gaining substantial support. We have tried to flesh out some parameters for discussion and raise some of the potential pitfalls.

One interested individual has suggested that anyone adjudicating over a disputed parade would require ‘the wisdom of Solomon’. There would be awkward judgements to be made on a whole range of issues. However, many of those judgements are, in effect, already made but the process is never public and the principles are never clear.

These ideas discussed above may have been suggested too late to resolve the immediate disputes. As with the introduction of the Public Order Order in 1987, any attempts to find long term solutions may well cause a number of short term problems. Whilst better control of parades could be forced upon organisations, there are a number of suggestions through which they could voluntarily improve their own control mechanisms, even suspend parades in an area for a particular length of time. The long term result of these measures would be to make parade organisers more responsible and accountable for the events they organise. The aim is not to prevent parades from taking place but rather to encourage a political environment where civil rights are respected and political and religious expression can take place without threatening or inconveniencing the lives of others.

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