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Parades and Marches - A Summary of the Issue



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Text and Research: Fionnuala Mckenna
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Parades have been an important feature in Northern Ireland society since the eighteenth century, as a means of commemorating and celebrating key historical events. For many, they fulfill a social, political, and religious role. The actual number of annual parades has been increasing steadily and substantially over the past 10 years, with 1995 seeing a total of 3,500 parades throughout Northern Ireland (an increase of 43 per cent from 1986). Of this total, 2,581 parades and marches were Loyalist and 302 were Nationalist. The cost of policing these Parades is large, with the policing bill in 1995 having exceeded 2 million pounds, and estimates for 1996 being in excess of 20 million pounds.

This section, will explore some of the issues involved in the parades question, beginning with the origins of the different parading organisations, their development, the main parades which they hold, and their part in the wider political context. It will also concentrate on the subject of disputed parades, and more specifically Drumcree, an issue which has raised the subject of parades to the forefront of the political agenda. There have been various contentious parades over many years, but the key political flash-points recently have proven to be Drumcree in Portadown, Ormeau Road in Belfast, and the Bogside in Derry. These areas have caused such concern in the past few years that they have led to the development of a number of Resident's Groups. There were also calls from both residents and politicians for some kind of new legislation or independent body which would tackle this issue. Such a body was subsequently established, under the chairmanship of Dr. North, and produced a report on the issue on 29 January 1997.

Also, in the light of events in Drumcree during the summer of 1996, it is important to look at the Royal Ulster Constabulary's handling of the situation, the responses which this prompted from the Nationalist community, politicians and the Irish Government, and the implications that this has had for law and order in Northern Ireland.


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