'Putting the Marchers on the Right Road', by Jarman & Bryan
[Key_Events] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
PARADES: [Menu] [Reading] [Summary] [Background] [Chronology_1] [Chronology_2] [Developments_Drumcree] [North_Review] [Articles] [Statistics] [Sources]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan
The events of the past week have clearly
demonstrated that the present procedure for dealing with disputes
over parades is inadequate. It may seem naively optimistic to
talk about how we might reach agreement over future contentious
parades, but the marching season is far from over and we need
to maintain a focus on this issue.
Long before the reaction to the RUC
decision to re-route the Orange parade from Drumcree church engulfed
Northern Ireland in violence, calls had been made for a new approach
to the problem. During the protests and violence last summer a
number of ideas were put forward:
* Decisions over the right to march
should not be left to the police but should be considered by an
* A set of general principles, which
guaranteed both the right to march and the right not to suffer
unwanted parades should be drawn up.
* It was suggested that the present
law is an inadequate means of addressing the problem and should
* Above all it was hoped that people
from both communities would acknowledge the need to compromise
in order that the disturbances should not be allowed to escalate.
These ideas were endorsed by a wide
variety of parties through the summer of 1995. Unfortunately when
the marching ended the issue was largely ignored. Some parties
did attempt to continue a dialogue, to promote discussion and
engage in debate. Some refused. When Easter Monday arrived and
rioting broke out at the Ormeau Bridge after an Apprentice Boys
parade was stopped from marching along the lower Ormeau Road it
became clear that the problem `hadn't gone away'.
Disputes occurred at parades in Crossgar,
on the Ormeau Road, in Bellaghy, Dunloy, Lurgan, Roslea, Downpatrick
and in north and west Belfast through May and June. It became
obvious that this marching season was going to be at least as
difficult as the previous one. The violence of the past week is
therefore not just a result of the events at Drumcree. It is also
due to the failure to address the issue of parading more generally.
At present each parade is treated as
an isolated event. The police rule on a parade on the Ormeau Road,
on a parade through Lurgan and on a parade in Portadown as if
each decision has no effect on the others. Each decision is made
on the basis of public order. This has meant that larger and larger
crowds have been encouraged onto the streets to influence whether
a parade should be allowed or banned. The result of this policy
was witnessed last week.
While the police and the politicians
insist that these are local events to be dealt with at a local
level, members of the both the unionist and the nationalist communities
are watching the bigger picture. For Orangemen, each parade that
is re-routed is a threat to their culture, an appeasement to Dublin.
For nationalists, each unwanted loyalist parade that is forced
through, or each republican parade that is re-routed is confirmation
of second class status. One may doubt the veracity of these as
facts, but one cannot dispute the strength of the beliefs, the
power of the feelings.
The recent violence has also focused
on the need to find a way to talk through the parading issue.
It is difficult to see what can be done in the short term except
to continue to urge people to discuss and search for compromise.
Drumcree showed that there was a willingness of church leaders
to become more publicly involved. Recent statements by Dr Harry
Allen, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church indicate that he will
be willing to continue with this work. We now have nearly a month
until the next major parades. It may seem a facile and naive hope
that any compromises can be made now, but if we are to avoid further
disturbances attention must be focused on the remainder of this
marching season. Discussions must be encouraged and supported.
We must also start to look ahead to next year and beyond.
Numerous voices have spoken in favour
of an independent body to look at the parades issue over the past
year. In response to the events at Drumcree Patrick Mayhew announced
he would establish some form of independent `roving eye', although
it is still unclear what remit this would have. Interviewed on
television at the Twelfth, David Trimble accepted that the `problem
will have to be addressed', while David Ervine emphasised the
need for people to talk to community representatives whatever
their background. It is vital that all the loyal orders involve
themselves in whatever process might be forthcoming.
A short term advisory commission, on
the lines of the Mitchell Commission, made up of individuals with
a civil rights or a judicial background, could be set up by September
and asked to produce a report within four to six months. It could
take submissions from all interested parties, not merely those
who are involved in organising or opposing parades. The commission
could consider the larger picture in a number of ways:
* by drawing up general guidelines for
* by reviewing the procedures to ensure
that decisions over parades are fair and consistent
* by suggesting how the future marching
seasons should be handled
* by examining the effectiveness of
the current laws governing parades
The guidelines would aim to balance
the demands for the right to parade and the right not to suffer
unwanted parades. It could consider the issue of rights of access
to town centres, to neutral public spaces and to main thoroughfares
or arterial routes. It could explore the issues of consent versus
consensus and could draw up a framework for negotiation which
those in dispute would be expected to follow.
While the rights of marchers and the
rights of residents have been to the fore recently, the commission
would also need to address the issue of the public responsibilities
of parade organisers and protesters. Rights to parade or protest
can not be unlimited.
There is no doubt that these will be
difficult issues to explore as attitudes have become even more
polarised over the past week. But there is also a greater realisation
that something must be done. However the Mitchell Commission did
manage to focus debate and to draw up a set of general principles
which drew a broad consensus on decommissioning. We need a similar
debate about parades without the pressure of a fast approaching
As an adjunct to the general guidelines,
a commission could offer an overview of the next marching season
which would provide balances to Orange concerns that their traditions
were being continually eroded, and nationalist concerns that they
were being discriminated against. Under the present system each
parade is dealt with when notification is given, seven days in
advance. Each disputed parade becomes a major focus of concern.
An overview might help move us away from the present focus on
winners and losers. It would show that although one or two parades
may be re-routed, others will be allowed. It would make the issues
more public and subject to debate and argument.
Who would enforce the commissions recommendations?
And what if they were ignored like RUC decisions at Drumcree?
Ideally the general principles would provide enough guarantees
to keep most interested parties on board and to contain disputes
within force of argument rather than force of numbers.
However it may also be appropriate for
the commission to consider the longer term or more drastic options
to deal with parades. This may include changes to the legislation
or means of imposing greater constraints on parade organisers.
In the report we also discuss suggestions that were made for a
more formal system of parade planning permission, which would
require a much longer period of notification for parades and of
the imposition of financial bonds or insurance on parade organisers.
None of these may be desirable constraints on freedom of expression,
but we do need to be thinking ahead and developing a longer term
strategy to ensure that the violence of the past few days does
not become a `traditional' part of the marching season.
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :