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Text: Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan ... Page Design: Fionnuala McKenna

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


The only statistics on parade numbers are those published in the RUC Chief Constable’s Annual Report each spring. These give bare figures on the total numbers of parades held by each community in the previous year, and the number of parades that had conditions imposed on them or at which trouble occurred. They can also be used to illustrate changes that have occurred over recent years. Prior to 1985 no figures for the numbers of parades were published in the report.

As this report was going to press we were given access to some more detailed statistics by The RUC Central Statistics Unit. They should allow us to analyse some trends in a future publication. However, the figures for 1995 appear to show a continuation of the trend over the past ten years in which the number of parades, both loyalist and republican have increased. In 1995 there were 3500 parades, of which 2581 were ‘loyalist’, 302 were categorised as ‘nationalist’, and 617 were placed in a new category of ‘other’. Of these, seven loyalist parades and seventeen nationalist parades were illegal, thirteen loyalist and seven nationalist parades were re-routed, and two nationalist parades had other conditions placed upon them. The RUC calculate that disorder occurred at thirteen parades, eleven ‘loyalist’ and two ‘nationalist’.

5.1 Ten Year Overview
Table 5.1 lists the numbers of parades that have been recorded in Northern Ireland from 1985 until 1994. These figures show that the re-routing of parades has been a consistent problem for the RUC. At the same time, those parades that have been re-routed account for only a small percentage of the total number of parades. In 1994 there were more parades re-routed than in any other year, and yet they still accounted for only just over 1% of all parades. The relatively high numbers of re-routed parades in l985 are linked to the disputes at Portadown which have been analysed in Bryan, Fraser and Dunn (1995).

The figures also show two distinctive features that require explanation: first the increase in the number of parades over the ten year period, and second the large difference between the numbers of Loyalist and Republican parades. We have already suggested some of the reasons why parading is so prominent within the Ulster loyalist community: the historical background to loyalist parades, the connections to the Stormont state, and the importance of local parades in reasserting the idea of Northern Ireland as a Protestant state. These matters all require more detailed analysis than can be presented in this report, although consideration of the broader social, political and historical background is available elsewhere (Bryan 1994, Bryan and Officer 1995, Bryan and Tonkin in press, Jarman 1992, 1993, 1995, in press). Here we will concentrate the general increase in parades in recent years.



Table 5.1 Total number of parades in Northern Ireland between 1985-94. 



































































Source: RUC ChiefConstable’s Annual Report and RUC Information Department.

i. The terms ‘loyalist’ and ‘republican’ are those used by the RUC, although in 1994 they changed the second of these categories to ‘nationalist’. There is at present no way to sub-divide these gross numbers in terms of the bodies organising the parades.

ii. The figures in brackets refer to illegal parades, i.e. those parades that refused to seek formal permission from the RUC under the terms of the 1987 Public Order (NI) Order. Under this legislation organisers of parades were required to give seven days notice of the intention of holding a parade and give information regarding participants and the route to be taken. In the first year of the legislation a relatively high number of parades were deemed to be illegal. Between 1992 and 1994 there were no illegal parades.


5.2 Growth in Parade Numbers
The average number of parades each year has increased substantially in the past ten years, from a low of 1950 in 1986 to a high of 2792 in 1994. This is a gross increase of over 43%. However this growth has been neither consistent nor steady but instead seems to have developed in two stages, giving three distinct average periods. In the first four years, from 1985 to 1988, the gross figure varied between 1950 in 1986 and 2120 in 1985 with an annual average of 2059. In both 1989 and 1991 the figures rose to over 2300 while in 1990 there was an even larger number of parades (2713). However, this figure was boosted because 1990 was the Tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne and the Orange Institution held a series of extra events over the year. The average numbers of parades for the last three years, 1992-4, has now reached 2732, which is greater than in the Tercentenary year.

Table 5.2 presents the gross figures as averages in each of the three blocks of years.



























This table shows that the average number of loyalist parades has increased steadily over the three periods. In contrast, the average number of Republican parades was steady between 1985-91 and has only increased in the final period, between 1992-94. Furthermore not only have Loyalist parades increased in real terms they have also increased in percentage terms. Loyalists now organise a larger proportion of the parades than they did in the late eighties, and they now account for 90.6% of the total number of parades. Over the total period of 1985-94 the annual average number of parades increased by 32.7%; however, the annual average number of Loyalist parades increased by 34.6% whereas the annual average number of Republican parades increased by only 16%.

Accounting for this increase is another problem. The jump in figures in 1989 and 1990 is probably largely due to the Tercentenary anniversaries of the Relief of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne respectively. On both occasions extra effort was put into marking the anniversaries. The Chief Constable’s Annual Report acknowledges the significance of the Tercentenary but suggests that the increase in 1989 was due to elections that took place that year. If the increase was purely for such specific one-off reasons it would be expected that parade numbers would drop in subsequent years, which has not happened.

The reason for the continued increase since 1992 is not so apparent. There is an increase of over 45% in loyalist parades between the number held in 1986 and the number held in 1994, a period when an extra 789 parades were recorded. The question would be more easily addressed if a greater range of information was available from the RUC, particularly giving figures by organisation. However, some figures supplied by the RUC Central Statistics Unit, shown in figure 5.3, seems to suggest that the numbers of parades on the Twelfth alone are rising.


Table 5.3 presents Number of Parades held on the Twelfth from1990 to 1995.















(Statistics provided by the RUC Central Statistics Unit).


The annual changes in these figures could be accounted for by the changes in venues that take place discussed in section 3.1. Nevertheless, in terms of the wider debate over the issue of parading, all the above figures taken together are significant, particularly with regard to the importance of the concept of tradition, which is so often invoked by loyalist groups. On these statistics alone the idea of an unchanging and consistent tradition is seriously challenged. However, some scepticism has been expressed over the scale of loyalist parades with suggestions that the increase maybe due to changes in the ways in which parades are counted or statistics processed rather than reflecting a real increase.

It would, therefore, seem reasonable to speculate that a large proportion of the general increase would be taken up by two specific categories of loyalist parades: the small feeder parades and competitive band parades. Band parades have been growing in popularity in recent years and probably do account for a part of the overall increase, but it is unlikely that they count for most of it. Instead it is likely that an increasing number of feeder parades are held prior to the main events. In talking with members of the loyal orders it is apparent that many Orangemen may be involved in three or more parades on anniversaries such as the Twelfth. First parading from a Master’s house to the hall, then from the hall to the transport, then perhaps at a district assembly point before arriving at the main venue. Each parade would require separate permission. Duplicated among the hundreds of lodges on parade on the Twelfth, this process would boost the total numbers dramatically. It has also been suggested that the police may class the outward and return legs of a parade as two parades in the same way as the residents of the lower Ormeau Road area, whereas Orangemen would regard the outward and return route as a single parade. Some of the increase may be due, therefore, to differing interpretations as to what constitutes a parade.

5.3 Republican Parades
It should be noted that, over the period from 1992 to 1994, the average number of Republican parades has also steadily increased, whereas it had remained stable over the previous two periods. This increase was sustained in 1995.

There are three groups within the nationalist community which hold regular parades, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the Irish National Foresters (INF) and the republican movement. The Hibernians and the Foresters are similar in organisational structure to the loyal orders and both have their origins in the brotherhoods and Friendly Societies which were popular in the nineteenth century. Both were also prominent in the nationalist campaign for Home Rule in the 1880-19 14 period and were prominent in maintaining a nationalist tradition of parading during the Stormont years. They have been eclipsed by the republican movement in this area since the beginning of the Troubles. The AOH hold their main parades on St Patrick’s Day (17 March), and on Lady Day (15 August). These are often held in smaller towns and villages but in recent years they have paraded in Derry, Downpatrick and Newry. The INF hold their annual parade in early August usually in County Armagh or County Down. Both organisations also hold a number of local church parades and occasional banner unfurling ceremonies. The main anniversaries would attract about 15 bands and divisions (the largest recent parade in Deny in 1995 drew 33 bands) and they would therefore be classed as small by the standards of loyalist parades.

The republican movement has become more prominent in holding commemorative parades, the Easter Rising being the main anniversary with numerous parades held on Easter Sunday across Ireland. Under Stormont, Easter parades in the north were often stopped and at best were confined to strongly nationalist areas, but some form of public commemoration was usually held. Since the Troubles republicans have established major parades to mark the anniversaries of Bloody Sunday -the end of January in Deny; the Hunger Strikes - early May in Belfast; and Internment - early August in Belfast. Smaller annual commemorative parades are held elsewhere in the north, particularly to honour the local IRA volunteers.

Some of the increase, in what the RUC classify as Republican parades, is probably due to this growing number of commemorations to the republican dead; but another part is probably due to the increased confidence and determination of nationalist and republican groups to claim their rights to parade and hold public rallies in major centres. It was only in 1993 that the annual Internment Commemoration in August was allowed to parade into Belfast city centre and hold its rally in front of the City Hall. The same year, the Ancient Order of Hibemians held their first ever parade in the city of Deny. The city has long had one of the largest AOH Divisions but during the Troubles the organisation had been reluctant to parade there for fear of provoking violence. This desire to parade in the neutral commercial centres of towns with a substantial nationalist population, underpinned the disputes in Castlederg and Lurgan in the period under consideration.

5.4 Summary
While much of the emphasis has been placed on the significance of tradition and traditional parades, the statistical material published by the RUC suggests that this is not enough to explain the significance of parading in the popular culture of Northern Ireland. While long standing parades may form the basis of the annual cycle of the marching season, the steady but persistent increase in overall numbers indicates that parading is intimately related to contemporary concerns and is not simply indicative of a people trapped in their past.

Parades have always been a part of the broader political process in the north, even when they have been glossed as no more than religious or cultural events. This is not to suggest that they are not religious or cultural events but that the political dimension cannot be excluded. Northern Ireland has always been a deeply divided society; power and authority have not been equally shared, civil and political rights have not been equally shared, wealth and access to the sources of wealth have not been equally shared, and both working class Catholics and Protestants have suffered as a result. The right to parade has been an area in which one community has been favoured in relation to the other. Parading has long been a source of antagonism and has often served to increase tension, and sometimes to generate conflict, in a number of areas. In the past parades have often served as a surrogate for low level warfare and, with the arrival of the ceasefires in 1994, the issue of parades became a prominent and highly visible means of displaying and mobilising behind traditional political demands in an alternative site of conflict. In 1995 the Troubles continued, to the sound of the beating drum and marching feet.

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