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'The North Report', by Neil Narman

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Text: Neil Jarman
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Scope, Social Affairs Magazine, March 1997
Neil Jarman

The North report offers a wide ranging review of the laws and practices surrounding parading. While it makes a number of recommemdations, the three key areas that it addresses are: the right to parade, means of dealing with disputes and the role of the police.

The report argues that the right to free assembly must be protected, but it also notes that this right is not absolute and brings with it responsibilities to the wider community. The right to protest is looked on in a similar fashion. As a result the loyalist argument for tradition and the nationalist argument for consent are both rejected in the search for accommodation.

This search is to be co-ordinated and facilitated by a Parades Commission, which will principally work to encourage local discussion and mediation to resolve disputes but in the last instance will have the power to adjudicate and issue a `determination'.

This effectively makes the principal decision over whether a parade should proceed political, and based on civil rights, rather than a public order decision taken by the police. However, the RUC will be expected to advise the new commission, and the Chief Constable will be able to appeal against determinations if he is `seriously concerned'. And, on the day he will still have the right to address public order considerations, so the proposed system would not be a guarentee that the violent demonstrations of last summer would not be repeated.

The recommendations in the report are therefore not a panacea. But they do offer a considered view of the problem and a framework for working towards solutions. The report therefore deserves to be read in full by all those interested in the issue. However the question is whether the people involved in these disputes do want to reach accommodation or whether they are happier standing on their principles of No Surrender and no compromise.

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