CCRU home background on CCRU community relations equality and equity research

Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster

Politics in Public

Politics in Public:
Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Protest - A Comparative Analysis

by Neil Jarman, Dominic Bryan,
Nathalie Caleyron and Ciro de Rosa

Published by Democratic Dialogue, 1998

ISBN 1 900281 07 4
Paperback 147pp £5.00

Copies are available in bookshops or, by post, from:

Democratic Dailogue
5 University Street

T: (01232) 232230/232228
F: (01232) 233334

This material is copyright of Democratic Dialogue and the authors, and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Politics in Public: Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Protest
A Comparative Analysis


Part One Northern Ireland
Part Two The Right to Demonstrate
England and Wales
Republic of Ireland
United States of America
South Africa
Part Three General Principles


Parade and Protest, published in June 1996, examined parades and demonstrations in Northern Ireland and considered possible ways of resolving or reducing disputes that had occurred Over this issue. Since that time the number of disputes has risen, more areas have become involved and, after Drumcree in 1996, attitudes have become more entrenched. On the other hand, some of the changes that the report discussed have been introduced. After Drumcree 1996 the Government announced the setting up of a review into disputes over parades and marches under Sir Peter North. The Independent Review of Parades and Marches published its report in January 1997 (North Report). Its main recommendation was the setting up of a Parades Commission to facilitate mediation and to make determinations if mediation does not bring about a resolution. The Parades Commission has been in operation under the chairmanship of Alistair Graham since March 1997 but its effectiveness has been limited by the lack of statutory power. The summer of 1997 proved to be equally difficult with the dispute over the Drumcree church parade again worsening community relations. In the autumn of 1997 the Government introduced the Public Processions etc. Bill (later amended to the Public Processions Bill) which will give the Parades Commission many of the powers suggested by North.
In this report we want to further examine the way public political expression is facilitated. In particular we will compare the legislation dealing with, and the practice of managing parades and protests in Northern Ireland with that of other jurisdictions. In the first part of this report we will assess some of the changes that have taken place in Northern Ireland and examine two case studies. In the second part we will examine the legal and practical facilitation and policing of parades, demonstrations and protests in England and Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, France, Italy, the USA, Canada, Israel and South Africa. During the course of the research for this report we have visited all these countries, spoke to lawyers, police officers, civil rights & political activists and academics and visited major events such as Sr. Patrick's Day parades in New York and Boston and the Notting Hill Carnival in London. Quite clearly no single place is exactly comparable with Northern Ireland and it would be foolish to believe that because something works in one jurisdiction then it would work in another. Nevertheless, we believe that there are lessons in all these places that might prove instructive in developing the conditions in the north for politicians, the police and communities to start to overcome the difficulties encountered in recent years. Consequently the third part of this report brings together the variety of approaches to public political expression for comparison.
In this research we were interested in more than the formal legislative framework in which public political expression takes place. As well as examining the relevant laws in each jurisdiction, we have asked interested parties how the control of processions, carnivals, demonstrations and protests work in practice. We have asked about some of the informal mechanisms and forms of communication that have developed, and in a number of cases we have watched what has actually taken place. This report examines a number of issues that impinge upon public political expression:

  • The nature of legal guarantees of the right to public political expression.
  • The legal frameworks used to define and regulate the right to demonstrate and protest.
  • The constraints which jurisdictions place upon public political expression
  • The judgement of toleration and provocation in public political expression.
  • The judgement of rights based upon tradition and custom.
  • The role of the police as managers of public political expression and public order generally.
  • The role of the community as managers of public political expression and public order generally.


Northern Ireland

The disputes over parades in 1995 raised particular issues around the rights of public 3 political expression but 1996 crystalised those issues and forced the British Government to act. Until the stand-off at Drumcree, (Drumcree II), between 7-11 July the government had resisted calls for an inquiry into the issue of disputed parades and sustained the argument that it was a policing issue. Drumcree II saw major disturbances all over Northern Ireland, initially by loyalists whilst the parade was held from proceeding on its traditional route, and later by nationalists after the police used violence to force the parade down the road. Some estimated the financial cost to be in the region of £50 million pounds and it also cost the life of a Catholic taxi driver in Lurgan shot by loyalist paramilitaries and a young man in Derry run over by a British army vehicle. On 15 July 1996 the Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew announced the setting up of The Independent Review into Parades and Marches, made up of Dr Peter North (chair), Fr. Oliver Crilly and the Very Revd. John Dunlop.

Parades and Protests in 1996 and 1997

Figures produced by the RUC revealed that there were 3,161 parades in 1996, 2,405 were caregorised as loyalist, 229 as republican and 527 as others. Of these 8 loyalist and 11 republican parades were deemed to be illegal. As Table I shows there was a slight fall in numbers from the previous year, although there appears to have been an increase in the number of parades since the mid 1980s (Jarman & Bryan 1996:35-41).

Table 1

1997 (to 28 Sept)
(Source: RUC Chief Constables Report)

The RUC figures indicate the extensive use of parades in Northern Ireland and the clear differences between communities in the organising of processions. The total also puts into perspective the number of disputes that actually take place. These statistics also indicated that in 1996 6 loyalist and 1 republican parade had conditions placed upon them whilst there was disorder at 15 loyalist parades. This compares with the previous year when there were 13 parades at which the RUC dealt with disorder, 11 loyalist and 2 republican.

Yet clearly these figures give little sense of the effect of parades disputes on community relations. The Drumcree dispute, of course, only counted as one parade in the figures. The statistics also give little indication of the chaos caused by the parades organised by the Orange Order in the week starting Monday 8 July, in protest at the stopping of the Drumcree parade, which were clearly designed to stretch the RUC and inevitably to leave disorder in their wake, even if the parades continued down their notified route. Indeed, the organisation of the parades on a nightly basis in Belfast during that week provides a striking example of when the right to public political protest can threaten serious disruption to the life of communities (Jarman 1997).

We recorded 52 disputed parades at 22 different locations in 1996 and 59 disputed parades in 21 different locations (Tables 2 & 3 See page 25). Some of the locations that had been problematic in 1996 were not disputed in 1997, sometimes due to parades not taking place every year. Problems also developed in areas in which we are unaware of previous disputes in recent years, such as Dromore (Co. Tyrone) and Ballycastle. These statistics compare with 1995 where we calculated 41 disputes in 12 different locations.

'Croppies lie down or Sinn Fein Conspiracy?

The problems over parades has been driven by the dynamic of events surrounding the disputes, by political pressure, and by the external pressures of the peace process. Contrasting experiences within the two communities can help to explain the growing intensity of the disputes. Within the nationalist community the events at Drumcree and on the Ormeau in 1996 were felt to be very important. Prior to these events, issues over rights of public political expression were important but attitudes towards the parades were still somewhat divided. Moderate nationalists and republicans were prepared to accept a degree of compromise in some areas whereby a limited number of parades could have taken place. Many nationalists felt that the RUC had taken a stand to protect their community when the Drumcree church parade was stopped in 1996. However, the RUC actions created such a reaction within the Orange Order and within loyalism generally, that the Chief Constable, Hugh Annesley, reversed his original decision and the parade was given access to the Garvaghy Road and residents forcibly removed. Later that same day the RUC judged, amid warnings that all the Orange Districts on the Belfast Twelfth parade would descend on the Ormeau Road, that the security situation was such that Ballynafeigh District should be allowed down the length of the Ormeau Road. To facilitate this they moved into the lower Ormeau area the evening before and effectively trapped residents into their streets for almost twenty-four hours. All this was done in the full glare of the worlds media to allow a parade to pass at around 9.00am the following day. For many nationalists these were the clearest examples of majoritarian control of Northern Ireland since the Ulster Worker's Strike in 1974. The RUC appeared either unprepared, or unable, to stand up to intimidation from the Orange Order. Anger and disillusionment were common emotions for many at that time. Soon afterwards boycotts of Protestant owned businesses started in some areas and the bitterness was expressed in Derry when the nationalist council voted to rake away the privileges of the UUP Mayor of the city Richard Dallas because he had been present at a blockade during the Drumcree stand-off. For many nationalists, the first two weeks in July 1996 were a classic case of the Orange Order wielding power to make 'the croppies lie down'.

Unionists viewed the development of these disputes quite differently. For many within the Protestant community the role of the residents groups in trying to stop loyal order parades on traditional routes has been orchestrated by Sinn Fein as an attack on Protestant culture. For those in the loyalist community the evidence was clear. A number of the residents groups had republicans or ex-prisoners as spokesperson. The demands of residents groups seemed to serve the purposes of Sinn Fein who were demanding their right to be involved in all-inclusive peace talks and the disbanding of the RUC. Finally, as 1996 progressed, it became obvious that residents groups were working more closely together. During the dispute over the Apprentice Boys' August parade the talks between the Bogside Residents Group (BRG) and Apprentice Boys' leaders seemed to hinge on the insistence by the BRG that the Apprentice Boys stop their feeder parades in other areas such as the lower Ormeau and Dunloy. For Unionists, their suspicions were confirmed when it was reported by RTE that Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams had congratulated republicans for the hard work they had done in particular areas.

Historical and Political Context

Whilst there can be no doubt that parades have always played a part in the politics of the north of Ireland, there have been various reasons for disputes developing in the mid-1990s.

  • The way in which public space was controlled both before and since the partition of Ireland has meant that the Protestant community has developed a large number of 'traditional' parades whereas the Catholic community has been restricted in its political expression to predominantly Catholic areas (Jarman & Bryan 1998).

  • An awareness of inequalities over public political expression became particularly significant during the period of the civil rights movement.

  • The nature of the conflict since the mid-1960s has increased the sense of territoriality that many communities feel.

  • The nature of the conflict since the mid-1960s has increased the assertiveness and numbers of parades and demonstrations held by Protestant and Catholic communities.

  • There has long been significant resentment within the nationalist community over loyal order parades, due both to the role of the Orange Order during the Stormont era and to the perceived sectarian nature of the Orange Institution itself and elements of their public events.

  • The IRA cease-fire in August 1994 allowed moderate nationalists to feel more at ease working with republicans on single-issue campaigns.

  • The loyalist cease-fire allowed people to feel safer in publicly expressing political feelings in such a campaign.

  • Due to concerns over the more assertive nature of some parades; due to efforts to improve community policing; and due in some measure to legal and political pressures that have been present since the mid-1980s the RUC have been less willing to facilitate loyal order parades than done in the past.

  • There has been a clear change in the campaign forged by the republican movement. A greater emphasis has been place upon conducting politics in a way that develops electoral success. The parades issue is one that allows republicans to garner broad based nationalist support by empowering local nationalist communities in a cause which highlights some fundamental problems with the RUC and exposes the unwillingness of unionists to engage in dialogue.

  • Disputes prospered within an inadequate British legal and policing system in which public order appears to define what is right and what is wrong. Decisions by the police, in this case the RUC, leave everyone with the impression that 'might is right'.

  • Within the above political context the parade disputes have assumed a dynamic of their own, with both the loyal orders and residents groups being driven by the growing symbolic importance of the issue.

In Northern Ireland parade have always tended to be a function of public order, or communal power, nor of rights. Parade routes and parade 'traditions' have been dependent upon local population balance and communal deterrence, on the attitudes of the police to specific political movements, on specific legislation, and on the tolerance of communities at particular times (Jarman & Bryan 1998). This situation can only be improved if the relations between communities and the state are altered. Fundamental to this must be that rights are based upon equality, nor upon the local dominance of one community over another. Ar issue therefore is the role that the state should play in making judgements on rights of public political expression, having regard to the fear and mistrust that exists between communities. Of vital importance is that the majority population extends the same rights to a minority community as it would claim for itself.

The North Report

The report of The Independent Review of Parades and Marches, published on 30 January 1997, made 43 main recommendations, including:

  • new arrangements should assist the search for accommodation and reinforce the rule of law, new arrangements should allow for the right of marchers, residents and the wider community to be accommodated,

  • roles and responsibilities should be clarified, providing greater transparency,

  • proposals should be proportionate to the problem, avoiding unnecessary restrictions and costly, bureaucratic processes,

  • proposals should have the objective of achieving greater consistency in decision-making and, where practical, an accommodation in individual locations over a longer time.

The report also identified a number of principles:

  • the right to peaceful free assembly should (subject to certain qualifications) be protected,

  • the exercise of that right brings with it certain responsibilities; those seeking to exercise that right should take account of the likely effect on the relationships with other parts of the community and be prepared to temper their approach accordingly,

  • all those involved should work towards resolution of difficulties through local accommodation,

  • in the exercise of their rights and responsibilities, those involved must not condone criminal acts or offensive behaviour,

  • the legislation and its application must comply with the Government's obligations under international law, and provide no encouragement for those who seek to promote disorder,

  • the structure for and process of adjudication of disputes over individual parades should be clear and applied consistently with as much openness as possible,

  • any procedures for handling disputes over parades and the enforcement of subsequent decisions should be proportional to the issues at stake.

The most fundamental of the proposals was to set up an independent body, which has become known as the Parades Commission, to make 'determinations' on contentious parades. However, the Chief Constable would have the power to ask the Secretary of State to review and reverse a determination. A key finding, and the one which in many ways is the hardest to interpret, is that the basis upon which decisions on parades could have conditions placed upon them would be extended to give 'consideration to the wider impact of the parade on the relationships within the community' (North 12.94). It was also recommended that the Parades Commission should issue procedures on how it might work, guidelines on the factors which would help the commissioners make these determinations and a code of conduct for those organising processions. The Parades Commission was also to facilitate mediation, work for greater understanding and arrange for monitoring of contentious parades. The North Review team felt strongly that 'rights carry responsibilities, and are not absolute', that the exercise of rights involved 'both restraint and responsibility, with respect to the well-being of others in the community' and that there was a need to work together to create a society 'that not merely tolerates but positively celebrates cultural diversity' (North 1.52).


The reaction of residents groups to the North Report could best be described as being a cautious welcome whilst the SDLP were quick to endorse the findings. But the Report came in for immediate criticism from unionists, which described irs proposals 'as a charter for grievances'. Many of the criticisms were voiced through the Northern Ireland Forum whose Standing Committee on Public Order Issues produced a report, which recommended:

  • implementation of a programme explaining the culture and tradition behind traditional parades by the loyal orders;

  • a code of practice based on those currently operated by the loyal order should be adopted by other organising bodies;

  • that the government address flaws in the public order legislation so that the fundamental right of peaceful assembly is recognised for 'all legal organisarions not supporting terrorism';

  • that the RUC properly enforce provisions in legislation that make it an offence to hinder a lawful public procession;

  • that traditional parades should he given particular protection.

The reaction of the Government to the North Report was to announce that although the Parades Commission would be set up, it would, in the first place, only promote and facilitate mediation and develop education around the issues of parades. Alistair Graham was appointed as Chairperson of the new Commission but the government decided on a further period of consultation before acting on the key proposals. This meant that nothing would be introduced until after the General Election which in turn meant that there was no realistic chance of a new Government introducing legislation that could have any chance of being effective for the summer of 1997. As such, the Parades Commission effectively had a watching brief over the events of the summer.

Public perception of the Parades Commission was chiefly influenced by two events during the summer. In the fall-our to the decision by the Chief Constable to forcibly remove protesters from the Garvaghy Road on 6 July a discussion document authored within the Northern Ireland Office implicated Alistair Graham in the conclusion that at least a limited parade would probably have to be allowed. Crucially this document was dated before the 'proximity talks' held by the Secretary of State at Hillsborough which members of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition and Armagh Orangemen attended and at which Alistair Graham was also present. Although the Parades Commission had no statutory powers and had little or no involvement in the proximity talks, and the Chief Constable made the decision under the 1987 legislation, the implication of the document was that the chairman of the Parades Commission already had a view on the Drumcree parade.

On a more positive note, the Parades Commission appeared in a more favourable light when one of its members, Revd. Roy Magee, was able assist in easing tension over parades in Newtownbutler on 12 July and attempted to find agreement on two Black parades in August. However, despite continued attempts, a church parade on 3 August ended in disturbances when the RUC permitted the parade to take place, although the Black Preceptory voluntarily re-routed their parade on 9 August (Kelly & Allen Nan 1998). The involvement of Magee raised an important issue over the role of the Parades Commission. Could Commissioners be involved in mediation if legislation was also to give them powers to make determinations as well? The possible conflict between the two roles led Roy Magee to resign from the Commission late in 1997. It remains to be seen what the public expectation will be over the role the Commission might play in the coming year.

The Public Processions Bill

The new Labour Government published The Public Processions Etc. (Northern Ireland) Bill in October 1997. Whilst its main aim was to empower the Parades Commission, publicity mainly focused on the clause which allowed for the remit to be widened to consider expressions of cultural identity other than parades. This clause was apparently put in at the request of Orangemen during negotiations over the Twelfth parades that were eventually voluntarily re-routed in the summer. However, as the Bill passed through Parliament it seemed to become obvious that expressions of cultural identity might include such things as the painting of kerbstones and the flying of flags. If as unionists claimed the Parades Commission is to be a factory of grievances, then the clause on other forms of cultural expression simply increased the size of the factory! The clause was dropped and the bill renamed The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Bill.

At the same rime the Parades Commission published three documents for consultation: a Code of Conduct, giving guidance to those in processions, Procedural Rules by which the practices of the Commission will be regulated and Guidelines setting the basis on which the determinations will be made (see Appendix for an overview of the Public Processions Bill, Code of Conduct, Procedural Rules and Guidelines).

Three issues in the Bill and associated documents are of particular importance. First, the criteria on which the Commission are to make the decision; second, the role of the police in the process; and third the publication by the Parades Commission of a 'preliminary view' on parades in areas of dispute.

The Criteria for Determinations

Clause 7 (6) sets out the basis on which the Commission should make a determination:
… .the Commission shall have regard to -

(a) any public disorder or damage to property which may result from the procession;
(b) any disruption to the life of the community which the procession may cause;
(c) any impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community
(d) any failure of a person of any description specified in the guidelines to comply with the Code of Conduct (whether in relation to the procession in question or any previous procession); and
(e) the desirability of allowing a procession customarily held along a particular route to be held along that route.

A number of points arise from these criteria:

  • How does one measure the various criteria against each other?
  • On what basis is the Parades Commission to make judgements of public disorder?
  • How does one measure 'disruption to the life of the community' or 'the impact a procession may have on relationships within the community'?
  • Who will monitor compliance to the Code of Conduct?
  • Why should a traditional route carry precedence over others and on what basis do you measure tradition?

The Role of the RUC

There are serious issues about the RUC that impinge upon this debate but which have been considered in more detail by others (Bryerr 1997; CAJ 1996, 1997; Human Rights Watch 1997; O'Rawe & Moore 1998). However, concentrating on the parading legislation there are questions over the exact role of the Chief Constable in carrying our the determinations. It is broadly accepted that a police force has to have operational control on managing a large event; public safety demands that officers may be required to change decisions. However, the Public Processions legislation allows for more than this. The Chief Constable can appeal to the Secretary of State to review a determination of the Parades Commission. The Committee for the Administration of Justice has argued that there is no reason for the police having a 'double bite of the cherry' by making an appeal, given that the Chief Constable will already have made representations to the Commission. Furthermore the Chief Constable is not accountable to the Parades Commission if he feels the need to overturn their determination.

The Preliminary View

The explanatory note that accompanies the new legislation suggests that the Public Processions Bill 'implements recommendations contained in the Report of the Independent Review of Parades and Marches'. In some areas, such as the clause on traditionality, the legislation is clearly at variance with North (see North 12.53). However, one proposal has caused particular difficulties. North recommended that 'the Parades Commission should be empowered to reach and promulgate conclusions to one or more parades in an area and do so where appropriate over a period longer than one year'. One advantage of this is that each determination is nor reduced to a win-lose scenario. Considering more than one parade over a particular rime frame however is problematic since under the new legislation notification of intent to parade is to be made 28 days in advance. Each parade can therefore only be considered on its own merits. Yet it is recognised that the number of parades in a particular area influences community relations. As such, under the Parade Commission's Procedural Rules, having gathered information in particular areas, the Commission will make an early informal or preliminary view on the pattern of parades for the year ahead. This offers a possible blueprint on the marching season and may receive cross-community support. The most significant change from previous years may well be that there will now be a preliminary view made on the right to march a particular route, which is distanced from any impending threat of public disorder.


So far we have concentrated on changes made by the state on the procedures for deciding on the right to march. However, just as important is an analysis of how the control of public political expression works in practice. A number of issues merit consideration:

  • the responsibility of organisers;
  • the role of the community in controlling public order;
  • the stewarding of events;
  • police responses to public order situations;
  • levels of toleration and provocation;
  • the consumption of alcohol.

Let us take two examples to consider how these issues affect practical situations.

Case Study One: Apprentice Boys Parade - Ormeau Road 8 April 1996

The annual Apprentice Boys Easter Monday parade was held in Portadown in 1996. The Walker Club in Ballynafeigh customarily holds a feeder parade that starts at the Orange Hall near the top of the road and finishes by boarding buses near the city centre. Tension was still high in the lower Ormeau area after violence during the RUC's clearance of protesters to allow the Apprentice Boys to hold a procession the previous August, and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC) group gave notice of a protest. The RUC announced that the Apprentice Boys parade would be re-routed.

At 8.00am around 80 men left the Orange Hall with approximately 50 more people following on the pavement. A banner at the front of the parade stated 'Ballynafeigh says No to Re-routing'. The RUC had blocked the bridge rising Land Rovers, but officers were not at this point dressed in riot gear. Sandy Geddis, who acted as spokesman for the club, read a statement at the RUC line and the marchers stood around chatting. Things remained quiet until 9.30 when the RUC pushed through lines of Apprentice Boys to give a fire engine access to a fire that had been started at the rear of the nearby supermarket. As the accompanying media scrambled to get pictures there were scuffles, a cameraman s stepladder was thrown into the river, and the reporters retreated behind police lines. It became clear that the parade organisers were nor sure how they were going to conduct the standoff.

It was a warm, sunny day and many people sat around drinking. There was some intermittent bottle but during the afternoon the violence became more persistent and a number of people were injured, apparently from bottles falling short of police lines. The police seemed to assume that the Apprentice Boys would march back to the hall at 500pm when the original parade would have returned from Portadown. However, the Apprentice Boys did nor seem to have a clear idea of how they were going to end the protest and the majority of those confronting police lines were not wearing Apprentice Boys sashes. From 4.00pm onwards a number of bands arrived and marched down to the police lines. Some Apprentice Boys and band members were clearly ill at ease at how the protest was being conducted and two band members had a public argument about what was taking place.

The next phase saw petrol bombs being prepared and we believe there may have been an attempt to hijack a bus. Some shops were attacked whilst others in the crowd shouted at people 'not to attack out own'. Between 5.00 and 6.00pm, perhaps when it became obvious to the police that the Apprentice Boys were nor going to parade back, the riot squad began to advance up the road. At around 6.30 there were attempts by some older men to gain control of the situation. One accordion band marched down to police lines then back up the road, which changed the mood somewhat and switched attention from police lines. Another band also marched to the police lines, but by this rime significant figures had taken control at the front of the crowd and this allowed Unionist councillors and some Apprentice Boys to place themselves between the crowd and the police and relieve tensions.

Just when the situation appeared to be under control another band and an Apprentice Boys club appeared at the top of the road and marched down. As the band moved away some of these Apprentice Boys attacked the police with a bannerette and ceremonial pike whilst others attempt to pull them back and retain control. After further confrontations those in the crowd trying to maintain control manage to do so. It was only at about 11.00 at night that the police broke up the remaining crowd with a baton charge.


The events that rook place during the day were complex. There were clearly interactions between the apparent randomness of crowd activity and the involvement of a variety of interest groups. There was the Apprentice Boys club, a variety of bands from different parts of the city, Some with paramilitary affiliations, some without, there was a variety of unionist politicians, there were figures from both the UDA and UVF present, many spectators spent the rime drinking. The actions of the police were crucial and the role of the media was significant on at least one occasion. At different points during the day different elements in the crowd took centre stage and seemed to control what was taking place.

However it would be foolish to think that situations such as these can always be managed. Emotions were high, yet there was clearly a desire amongst the organisers of the parade, amongst many unionist politicians and, we suspect, amongst some within the paramilitaries, to control what was taking place and make the protest forceful yet peaceful. The protest therefore raises a number of questions.

  • Is it possible to plan protests in such a way as to keep the peace?
  • Could organisers utilise stewards to manage such situation better?
  • Can communication with the police be improved so misunderstandings do nor occur?
  • With whom does the responsibility for public order lie, the police or the protesters?
  • Can effective controls on alcohol consumption be maintained in such circumstances?
  • Should the media be working under guidelines for such occasions?

Case Study Two: Parades in Derry

The parade dispute in Derry has some features that are significantly different from those in other areas (Jarman & Bryan 1996; Pat Finucane Centre 1995 & 1996; Kelly & Allen Nan 1998). First it is a city with a large nationalist community with a small Protestant community in the Fountain area. There seems to be widespread agreement that it is important that the city remains mixed and that the Protestant legacy is recognised. Second, the dispute involves a small number of parades: the Apprentice Boys parade in August commemorating the end of the Siege and the parade in December which remembers the Closing of the Gates and ends with the burning of an effigy of Lundy. The August parade is possibly the largest parade held annually by the loyal orders. Third, there seems to be a consensus in the city that these two parades should take place, but there are disagreements about the conditions under which the parade should take place.

In 1995 the Apprentice Boys applied to have a parade around the full circuit of the walls of Derry on the morning of Saturday 12 August. The walls had been closed in 1969 so the full circuit had not been walked since then. The Bogside Residents Group (BRG), formed in 1995, objected to the parade using the section walls overlooking the Bogside. However, the police decided the parade should go ahead and cleared protesters from the wall. Later in the day when the main parade came over from the Waterside there were confrontations, particularly between some bandsmen and protesters at the Diamond. Although Apprentice Boys stewards attempted to calm the situation, they were rinable to deal with it. After the parade ended conflict developed between the police and protesters and within 30 minutes plastic bullets were being fired and petrol bombs being thrown.

The events surrounding Drumcree 1996 encouraged a closer relationship between the various residents groups and members of the BRG felt that they should show solidarity with residents groups in areas where the Catholic community formed a lower percentage of the community. During meetings between the BRG and the Apprentice Boys prior to the 1996 Relief of Derry parade, the BRG argued that a solution should be linked to disputed Apprentice Boys parades in the lower Ormeau, Bellaghy, and Dunloy. But with no agreement reached the Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew, decided to prohibit all parades on that section of the city walls between 7 - 31 August and the army moved in and sealed the area. The parade on the day took place without major incidents, thanks in part to Alistair Simpson, Governor of the Apprentice Boys announcing that a parade around the walls would take place at a date of their choosing. That parade took place on 19 October.

In 1997 there were significant attempts by community workers, politicians, the business community, the BRG and the Apprentice Boys to look for solutions. Yet, as with the previous year, the feeder parades in other areas still created difficulties. On 4 August the RUC announced that the controversial feeder parades were to be re-routed and the BRG announced that there would be no protest at the Siege of Derry parade. There seemed to be a good chance that the day would pass peacefully. As part of an effort to change the atmosphere at the parades around the walls, the Apprentice Boys organised a pageant, which was in part funded by Derry City Council. Alistair Simpson made it clear that only local club members were to take part, and although there was a group of around 30 nationalists on Magazine Street, at 9.30 the parade, with some people in costume, took place to the sound of a single drum beat. Whilst members of the local Apprentice Boys Clubs went to the Cathedral for services other people were left drinking, waiting for the main parade. This started from the Waterside around mid-day and included nearly 150 bands. Although there was no organised protest in the centre of Derry, there were clearly a number of onlookers from the Bogside gathered in Butchers Street. The police attempted to let spectators move freely around the Diamond although there were barriers in place. For a long period the parade seemed likely to pass off peacefully but a number of factors conspired to cause disturbances. As is always the case there are significant quantities of drink taken by spectators at this event and some were allowed to occupy the War Memorial. Young nationalists were soon engaging in 'banter'. Although there were attempts to keep the situation calm, things rapidly got out of control when a loyalist band, carrying paramilitary flags, broke ranks to pursue a youngster who had stolen a bandsman's cap. Members of the band gestured as if they were shooting at people as stewards and police struggled to regain control. For the next hour tension was high, bottles were thrown, and fights broke out. Apprentice Boys stewards tried in vain to calm the situation but as more loyalists gathered in Bishop Street, confrontation became inevitable. As bands came into the Diamond a number of them reacted, ignoring the fact that they were going around a war memorial. Since the RUC seemed unwilling to deal with the parade they tended to move in on the nationalists. Only when the parade had finished did the RUC move against the loyalists who had gathered and the riot squad moved them up Bishop Street.

These incidents soured the genuine efforts to improve the environment in which the parade took place. The Apprentice Boys were quick to act against the band involved, but recriminations over the action of organisers, police and those watching the parade were widespread. The Closing of the Gates parade on 13 December subsequently became an issue even though it had not been so in previous years. The BRG stated that they would protest in the Diamond. Interestingly, the business community, who had been trying to resolve problems, now moved to centre stage and debate focused on the way the parade affected the Christmas trade. Attempts to find a resolution failed and on the day the police print in place a massive operation to stop protesters reaching the Diamond. Whilst businesses in the Bishop Street area had felt it necessary to close in previous years the threat of disturbances and the police operation effectively meant that most of the city centre closed down by early afternoon.

The parade is much smaller than that in August and involves around twelve bands. It comes into the city around mid-day and, after a service at the Cathedral, follows a route around the Diamond. Whilst there was shouting between protesters and loyalists on the ground the atmosphere was nor particularly bad. The police operation overwhelmed almost everyone including parade organisers. A helicopter flew so low overhead that it was nor easy to hear anything. Apprentice Boys stewards made strenuous efforts to make sure that there were no problems as the bands went around the Diamond. Some paramilitary flags that had been on view as the parade entered the city were removed and stewards attempted to keep spectators from abusing the protesters. Senior Apprentice Boys were placed in Butchers Street where the parade enters the Diamond and made sure that each band knew to stop playing. Indeed, the first band set the mood by playing Jingle Bells as they approached The parade went smoothly until a Belfast band changed the atmosphere despite attempts by stewards to calm them down. As they went around the Diamond a confrontation with a steward required police involvement and brief scuffles resulted. Following the parade confrontations between police and nationalists quickly developed on Shipquay Street, these spread to the bus station anti the Guildhall area. Vehicles were hijacked and burnt as youngsters threw stones and petrol bombs at the police. Serious confrontations continued late into the evening.


Unlike most loyal order parades, the majority of those participating in the Siege of Derry parade are nor from the area and are relatively unfamiliar with the city. Since there is a large Catholic majority in the city many locals feel that their city is taken over for the day. This in turn increases the problems for those trying to steward the event if an incident occurs. For many it is a day out and there are often problems with the amount of drinking that takes place at both the August and December parades. The parades also take the best part of both days. The December event has particular problems because the effigy of Lundy is nor burnt until after dark so that many people are hanging around for most of the afternoon.

Coming to terms with the historical legacy provided by the two major events is important for the future of the city. It is important for all concerned that the Protestant community in the city feels secure and that Derry is able to accommodate its diverse history. However, for this to take place the relations that encompass the parades need to be worked upon. Although 1997 was an inauspicious year for improving the community relations in the city there is clearly a lot of pressure to make things work. The business community and the local council have been more pro-active in Derry than in any other part of Northern Ireland. The Apprentice Boys have approached the situation with more imagination than the loyal orders have shown in other areas and the BRG have repeatedly said that in the right conditions these parades should be facilitated. Neither the business community, nor local residents, nor the Apprentice Boys can reasonably claim (or we think would try to claim) a monopoly of rights in using the city centre. The disputes in Derry also raise a range of issues.

  • What level of disruption should reasonably be asked of local communities in recognising the right of groups to hold public events?
  • How much should one take into account the rights of the business community in decisions on major events?
  • How can changes to the organisarion of events improve local community relations?
  • What levels of police-organiser-community liaison should there be prior to large public events?
  • Is it possible to improve the monitoring and stewarding of such events to better enstire public order?
  • Can improved communications better facilitate public order?
  • What strategies can be utilised to reduce the amount of incidents exacerbated by the high consumption of alcohol at events?


These two case studies provide good examples of the complex issues we wish to analyse. In some ways they are not representative cases. The Apprentice Boys of Derry have many any fewer parades than the Orange Order and as an organisation have attempted to deal with some of these difficult issues on the Ormeau Road and in Derry. The attempt to view the walk on the walls as an historical pageant must surely be a good way of coming to terms with difficult relationships. Nevertheless, despite the unique qualities of these cases we do think they suggest general problems.

The Right to Parade

The right to hold a procession or demonstration is an important right and it is the duty of the stare to attempt to facilitate that right. But where do the limits of these rights lie?

What are the responsibilities of organisers?
What constraints should be placed on those wanting to hold processions?
What are the limits of provocation that either participants or protesters should tolerate?
What rights should be accorded to the business community?
How do we judge that groups are being treated equally?

The Right to Protest

The right to protest is important and it is the duty of the police to facilitate that right. Clearly, in the nature of protests, they offer different problems to events such as a parade.

What responsibility do those protesting have towards the community?
How are relations with the police to be managed?
Is it possible to lay out guidelines for protests?
Does a democratic culture require greater education on rights?


One conclusion that can be drawn is that public order is an issue for the wider community not simply for the police. Serious and regular breakdowns in public order generally affect areas that can least afford such problems. Recognising that public order is a problem for the Community is not new and it has led to a reappraisal of policing in other parts of the world, South Africa being an obvious example (Brogden & Shearing 1993). Such problems therefore demand a re-examination of the advantages of forms of local community empowerment and a rethinking of the way we deal with public order problems.

In the second section of this report we will examine how many of the above issues are addressed in other countries. The Notting Hill Carnival, the control of Orange parades in Scotland, the legal rights of demonstrators in France and Italy, the reform of rights of political assembly and the management of political difference in South Africa, the control of large St Patrick's Day parades in New York and Boston, and the rights of minority communities in Israel are all worthy of examination. Many similar legal and practical problems exist in each of these jurisdictions. Whilst in some cases people have had no more success in dealing with problems than in Northern Ireland, we think that they offer a range of possibilities and solutions which are worth considering.


Mar3Lurgan Nationalist Right to March Re-route
April8Ormeau Road ABs - Feeder Parade Re-route/Violence
20Crossgar Band Parade Violence
26Lurgan Band Parade Voluntary re-route/Protest
28Ormeau Road OO - Orange Widows Service Re-route
May4Lurgan Band Parade Voluntary re-route/Protest
5West Belfast Hunger Strikes Commemoration Voluntary re-route
19Dunloy ABs - Church Parade Protest
31Roslea Black Banner Unfurling Protest
June9Dunloy Black Church Parade Protest
21North Belfast OO mini-l2th - Tour of the North Protest/Violence
29West Belfast OO mini-l2th - Whirerock Protest
Downpatrick Band Parade Re-route
30Ormeau Road OO - Somme Anniversary Re-route
July1Lurgan OO - Somme Commemoration Protest
Bellaghy OO - Somme Commemoration Protest
7Porradown OO - Drumcree Church Parade Re-route/Violence
8Bellaghy Band Parade Protest
12Ormeau Road OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest
Newry OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest-re-route
Coalisland OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest/re-route
Keady OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest
Newtownbutler OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest
Pomeroy OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest
19Omagh Band and Nationalist Parades Violence
21Newtownbutler Black Church Parade Protest/re-route
27Keady Band Parade Protest/Violence
Aug10Derry ABs - Relief of Derry Re-route
Armagh ABs - Feeder Protest/re-route
Bellaghy ABs - Feeder Protest
Dunloy ABs - Feeder Re-route
Ormeau Road ABs - Feeder Re-route
Newtownbutler Black - Feeder Protest/ re-route
Roslea Black - Feeder Protest/re-route
11Bellaghy Black Church Parade Protest/re-route
15Moy AOH Lady Day Parade Voluntary re-route
25Ormeau Road Black Church Parade Voluntary re-route
30Crumlin Band Parade Violence
Newry Band Parade Protest/re-route
31Armagh Black - Feeder Protest/re-route
Bellaghy Black - Feeder Protest/re-route
Cookstown Black - Feeder Protest
Crumlin Black - FeederProtest/re-route
Dunloy Black - FeederProtest/re-route
Keady Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
Newry Black - FeederProtest/re-route
Ormeau Road Black - FeederProtest/re-route
Pomeroy Black - FeederProtest/re-route
Strabane Black - FeederProtest/re-route
Sep7Derry Women's Orange ParadeAttacked
8Dunloy OO - Church ParadeProtest/re-route
22Enniskillen Band ParadeViolence
Oct27Ormeau OO - Church ParadeRe-route


Mar 31Ormeau Road ABs - Feeder Voluntary re-route
April 27Ormeau Road OO - Orange Widows Service Voluntary re-route
May 18Dunloy ABs Church Parade Protest/re-route
June7Ballymena Band Parade Violence
20Newry Band Parade Protest
22Bellaghy OO - Church Parade Protest/re-route
Keady OO - Church Parade Protest/re-route
Mountfield OO - Church Parade Protest/re-route
28West Belfast OO mini 12th - Whiterock Protest
29Ormeau Road OO - Somme Anniversary Re-route
July 1Bellaghy Somme Anniversary Protest/re-route
4Newtownbutler Church - Band Parade Voluntary re-route
6Keady OO - Church Parade Voluntary re-route
Newtownbutler OO - Church ParadeProtest/Voluntary re-route
Pomeroy OO - Church Parade Protest
Portadown OO - Drumcree Church parade Protest
7Bellaghy Band Parade Protest/re-route
12Armagh OO - Twelfth Main Voluntary re-route
Ballycastle IOO - Twelfth Main Protest
Bellaghy OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest/re-route
Castlewellan OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest/re-route
Derry OO - Twelfth Main Protest/Voluntary re-route
Dromore OO - Twelfth Main Agreement
Dunloy OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest/re-route
Keady OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest/Voluntary re-route
Newry OO - Twelfth Feeder Voluntary re-route
Newtownbutler OO - Twelfth Feeder Agreement
Ormeau Road OO - Twelfth Feeder Voluntary re-route
Pomeroy OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest
Strabane OO - Twelfth Feeder Protest/Voluntary re-route
Whitewell Rd OO - Twelfth Feeder Voluntary re-route
14Newry Black - Feeder Voluntary re-route
25Castlewellan Band Parade Agreement
26Ormeau Road Band Parade Violence
Aug 3Newtownbutler Black Church Parade Protest
8Ballycastle Band Parade Violence
9Bellaghy ABs - Feeder Protest/re-route
Derry ABs - Main Agreement/ Violence
Dunloy ABs - Feeder Re-route
Newtownbutler Black - Feeder Protest
Ormeau Road ABs - Feeder Re-route
Roslea Black - Feeder Re-route
24Ormeau Road Black - Church ParadeVoluntary re-route
29Newry Band ParadeProtest
Pomeroy Band ParadeProtest
30Ballycastle Black - FeederProtest
Bellaghy Black - FeederRe-route
Dunloy Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
Newry Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
Ormeau Road Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
Pomeroy Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
Strabane Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
Whitewell Rd Black - FeederVoluntary re-route
31Lurgan Another ChanceProtest
Sep5Crumlin Band ParadeProtest
14Dunloy OO - Church paradeRe-route
Ocr26Ormeau Road OO - Church paradeRe-route
Nov8Bellaghy British Legion - Rem SunProtest
Dec13Derry ABsViolence


General Principles

The case studies illustrate a number of ways of addressing the ways and means by which freedom of assembly and the tight to demonstrate are facilitated in practice in a diverse range of countries. While no single example provides a clear analogy or mirror to the situation in Northern Ireland, collectively they can he used to highlight a number of factors relevant to the current disputes here.

At the most general level we are interested in the relationship between law and practice, between legal and constitutional guarantees for civil rights and how these are played our on the streets. Constitutional tights and legal frameworks often relate to idealised situations rather than the messy and varied issues that arise from daily life.

On issues of public order there is always a balance to be maintained between law enforcement and keeping the peace. Sometimes the letter of the law must be allowed to be broken in order to maintain a wider peace. Sometimes the law must be changed if the situation that the law applies to changes.

There are a number of limited issues that recur when dealing with the practice of demonstrating. There is a narrow repertoire of problems that need to be addressed and despite the varieties of local context there is also a narrow range of practical solutions that can be imposed whilst still working within a human rights framework.

In the section that follows we draw out some of these practical solutions which appear to be of most relevance to Northern Ireland. Not all of them may be of use here and no single country could provide a ready-made model of a workable solution to the current disputes. We do not hold up these practices as necessarily providing all the answers to the disputes over the right to parade here. Rather we use them to illustrate that there are a variety of ways forward and we suggest that they represent current international best practice with respect to the basic right of freedom of assembly.

Each of the countries we have surveyed has faced some degree of difficulty over pub demonstrations and each has addressed the problem to a greater or lesser extent. The variety of approaches illustrates that every problem has more than one solution.

1. Constitutional Guarantees

In Northern Ireland there is no constitutional guarantee of freedom of assembly ot ot rights to public political expression. Rights exist only as common law in so far as that which is not prohibited or restricted is permitted. It has been suggested that any constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland should include a Bill of Rights. This argument has received widespread support from across the political spectrum.

  • A number of countries, including Canada, Ireland, Italy, South Africa and the USA, have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of assembly.

  • In most of these, this freedom is qualified, by extending that right to peaceful assembly to assembly without arms.

  • Furthermore, freedom of assembly is but one of a number of such constitutional freedoms, which are of a similar or equal status. Freedom of assembly is thus always limited and balanced by other constitutional freedoms.

  • As a constitutional right, freedom of assembly applies equally to all members of and all sections of society. It is not conditional, nor subject to approval of either the majority community or minorities within the society.

  • Constitutional tights are, or can be, limited by concerns for public order, public safety, public health (Italy) and morality (Ireland, Italy) and 'other reasonable limits' (Canada).

  • Such unspecified or unfocused restrictions may be or can be clarified by the courts. In Italy and the USA the courts have overturned laws which they consider unduly restrict constitutional guarantees. In Canada and South Africa the constitutional limits have yet to be addressed by the judiciary.

  • Three of the countries (France, Israel and the United Kingdom) that we studied provided no constitutional right to demonstrate, although in each country such rights had been established through practice.

2. Legal Frameworks

All countries have a range of laws that are used to govern the practical limits of the freedom of assembly and rights to demonstrate. In Northern Ireland the right to parade has been managed under the 1987 Public Order (NI) Order. Much of this legislation will be replaced by the new Public Processions (NI) Act (see Appendix for a summary of the main provisions).

  • In France and the United Kingdom the right to demonstrate is guaranteed neither by constitution nor legal framework, but rather through the absence of formal restrictions. Under English common law one is allowed to do something unless it is prohibited.

  • Israel has a somewhat intermediate position is so far as there is no constitutional right to freedom of assembly. However, the Supreme Court has defined it as a 'fundamental right'. As such the government has issued legally binding directives to define the framework of such tights.

  • In France, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom laws defining or limiting the rights of assembly were introduced during periods of political disturbances during the 1930s, when there were widespread and recurrent clashes between political opponents of the left and right. In each country these regulations still provide the basis for legal constraint.

  • In South Africa a new legal framework defining the structure of management of demonstrations was introduced as a result of a commission of inquiry into public violence following serious violence at political demonstrations during the period of political transition.

  • In each country laws have been enacted to define or to limit the constitutional rights with respect to concerns for public disorder. In all cases public order is cited as a legitimate reason for banning ot restricting a public demonstration.

  • Constraints can also be legally imposed for reasons such as support for unconstitutional demands (France has banned demonstrations in support of the legalisation of cannabis) or support for illegal organisations (Ireland)

3. Tradition

In Northern Ireland many parades that have been held for a number of years are considered to be 'traditional'. Some believe that 'traditional' parades have greater rights than other non-traditional parades. At various times in the past the significance of traditional parades has been singled out in law. Under the Public Processions Act the Parades Commission will have to take into consideration 'the desirability of allowing a procession customarily held along a particular route to be held along that route' as one factor when making determinations over contentious parades.

  • The concept of traditional rights was not acknowledged as a legal category in any of the other countries that we studied. However some informal recognition was given to longstanding parading practices.

  • Traditional rights to demonstrate, at particular times of the year or over specific routes, are rarely invoked elsewhere. In most cases a pragmatic and flexible approach is adopted. Routes are varied according to circumstances and change over the years.

  • In Canada and USA there is a comparable concept of grandfathering under which long established or important events have a tight to either a specific route or a specific date or both.

  • In New York and Toronto there are a limited number of grandfathered parades each year, although the number can increase and has done so in recent years. Many parades are organised by distinct ethnic communities; in neither city does any single community have mote than one grandfathered parade a year.

  • The New York St Patrick's Day parade is the longest established parade. Under the grandfathering system only the Ancient Order of Hibernians are permitted to organise a parade on Fifth Avenue on 17 March. Nevertheless the route has changed on a number of occasions.

  • Grandfathering does not necessarily imply a longstanding practice, the Khalsa parade, organised by the Sikh community and the West Indian Caribana carnival parade in Toronto are both of recent origin, but both are now considered to have the same tights as long established grandfathered events.

  • In London and Paris there are established or favoured routes for large demonstrations, but these are not claimed by particular groups, nor are there specific rights to use them. In Paris there are also favoured areas for left-wing demonstrations and others for right-wing demonstrations, but again these traditions are very flexible.

  • Tradition therefore exists as a limited concept in some other countries, but it does nor transcend other concerns for public order or disruption to daily routines.

4. Equal Rights

It is widely acknowledged the human and civil rights should be applied equally and without discrimination to all members and sections of society. In many countries equal rights have been acknowledged in law but denied in practice. In Northern Ireland the right to demonstrate has not been extended equally to all people and all communities. Nationalists have argued that their rights to demonstrate have often been denied while Unionists feel that their rights are currently under threat. Recognition of mutual rights is an important feature of any democratic civil society.

  • Whether it is guaranteed by the constitution or by the law it is widely accepted that the right to demonstrate should be given or permitted to all members of a society equally.

  • Nevertheless in some countries specific communities or political groups may feel that they are discriminated against over the right to hold demonstrations. In a number of countries the gay community have had to fight for their right to demonstrate in recent years, although their Gay Pride parades have become established events in many cities.

  • In Israel, despite an active assertion of a general tight to demonstrate as a fundamental right, this right is not applied equally to both Jewish and Arab citizens of the state. Arab Israelis believe that their civil rights to political expression and commemoration are not upheld with equal force to those of Jewish Israelis. However, it is felt that the situation is improving through more assertive actions.

  • In France and the United Kingdom the political patties of the extreme tight feel that their rights to demonstrate are not safeguarded by the state in the same way as the rights of other political patties. In Italy similar feelings have been expressed by federalist parties.

  • There is also clearly an issue when tradition is invoked to give one particular community rights to demonstrate that are not offered to other communities. In many cases this is overcome by giving each community access to traditional events.

  • Where rights are not extended to all sections of the community equally there is clearly an issue for the state or for the courts to address. Similarly when one political group or community seeks to prevent another one from exercising its civil rights the issue should be dealt with promptly rather than be quietly ignored.

5. Notification

Under the new Public Processions Act organisers of parades and demonstrations will have to give 28 clays notice of their intention to hold a public procession. Organisers of protest meetings will have to give 14 days notice of their intentions. Notification is given to the police on a standard form who then forward the information to the Parades Commission.

  • In all countries surveyed, except the Republic of Ireland, there is a requirement to notify an authority of plans to organise a demonstration, parade ot march. In all countries surveyed exceptions are allowed when it is not possible to give even the minimum notification period.

  • In Canada, England, France, Israel, Italy and the USA notification must be given to the local police. In Scotland and South Africa notification is given to the elected municipal authorities that have the responsibility of liaising with the police.

  • The required period of notification varies from three days in Italy to twenty-one days in Canada. In practice even the three days notification period is not strictly adhered to in Italy while in Canada the police prefer to be given even longer notice wherever possible. In England and Scotland, local agreements mean that the loyal orders usually give much longer notice of their intentions.

  • In most jurisdictions notification is notice of intent, rather than a request for permission to demonstrate, although in Israel organisers must receive formal permission. The authorities require information on the time, place and scale of the demonstration. They also want to know the reason for the event and the name and address of those taking responsibility for its organisation.

  • Notification usually leads to a process of negotiation over the time and route that is proposed for the demonstration. There is no generally accepted right that one can demonstrate wherever and whenever one wants. Some form of compromise is normally reached between the organisers and the authorities.

  • In France, Israel and Italy any decision to prohibit or restrict a demonstration should be notified in advance of the event. In France and Italy this is to allow time for negotiations, in Israel it is to allow for an appeal to the courts.

  • In France the police and the organisers sign formal documents that indicate the agreed terms of the event. This imposes a responsibility on the organisers to follow the agreed route, time etc and on the police to protect a legal demonstration.

  • If no prior notification is given of a demonstration then the event is deemed illegal. In all countries surveyed the police have the right to disperse such gathering while the organisers of illegal demonstrations can be subject to prosecution. In practice the police often facilitate illegal demonstrations in the interests of public order.

6. Constraints

At present the RUC have the power to impose a variety of constraints on the organisers of demonstrations relating to the route, the timing and the content of the procession, but only if they have concerns for public order. Under the new legislation the Parades Commission will take over such powers and have produced a Code of Conduct which sets our a broad range of standards that should be adhered to. The Parades Commission will also be expected to consider the impact a parade will have on relationships within the community and any disruption likely to be caused to the life of a community before imposing constraints. The RUC will retain the right to impose constraints due to fears for public order on the day of a parade. Only the Secretary of State can ban one or more parades in their entirety.

  • In all countries the authorities responsible for the policing of parades have the power to ban parades or impose conditions on them. The total prohibition of a parade is rarely exercised, in most cases the authorities would expect to teach some form of negotiated compromise if there were any problems with the proposed event.

  • The most common reason for constraining or banning public demonstrations is concern for public order. However public order is a poorly defined concept. It is generally accepted that public order means an absence of violence, but it is not clear how far it also refers either to an absence of disruption of daily life or to what constitutes the norm of public order.

  • Usually the police have considerable flexibility to determine the limits of public order and make a judgement on what might constitute a threat to it. However, in Israel the police are required to have more concrete evidence of active planning for violence before they can ban an event as a threat to public order.

  • Often the threat of a counter-demonstration or of some form of protest is sufficient to invoke concerns for public order and prohibit the original event. But in Italy the courts have decided that in such a situation the original demonstration should be permitted and the counter-event should be banned or constrained.

  • In France demonstrations can be banned by the police if they support or advocate illegal activities. This power is rarely exercised although a proposed pro-cannabis demonstration was banned recently. In contrast demonstrations against visiting heads of state or important foreign visitors are often banned, heavily constrained or subject to intensive security.

  • In Italy demonstrations can be banned by the questore if there are concerns for public health or morality, similarly in Ireland demonstrations can be restricted on the grounds of concern for morality. There is no indication that these concerns have ever been invoked.

  • In most cases the authorities are also concerned about disruption that may be caused to daily routines. In Canada, France and the USA there is a concern to minimise the disruption to traffic and free movement of other users of urban areas. In Canada and the USA the disruption to commercial life and business is also a key factor in the timing or location of a demonstration.

  • In contrast, in Israel the courts have determined that demonstrations are an important feature of democratic life and therefore demonstrators have as much right to use the streets as pedestrians and vehicles.

  • In a number of countries demonstrations are, or can be, banned from sensitive locations. Parliament buildings, government buildings and courts frequently have restricted access. In New York demonstrations are also banned from passing the United Nations building.

  • In Israel demonstrations are usually banned if they are likely to provoke religious hostility. Jewish demonstrations have been banned from some strongly Palestinian areas, and Jews are not allowed onto the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Palestinian demonstrations are generally restricted within Israel.

7. Time, Place and Manner

Under the new legislation and the Code of Conduct the Parades Commission will be able to impose constraints on the route of a parade, on the time of a parade and on the style and content of a parade. Any such restrictions should only be imposed if mutual agreement has not been reached as a result of local dialogue or more formal negotiations.

  • In the USA any restrictions imposed on the right to demonstrate are readily challenged through the courts. Nevertheless the police are able to invoke their right to restrict the time, place and manner of a demonstration without limiting basic civil rights. It is accepted that while people have the right to demonstrate this will not always be facilitated in the time, place or manner of their own choosing.

  • While this is not explicitly formulated elsewhere, in most, if not all, jurisdictions the authorities reserve the right to limit the time, place and manner of a demonstration.

  • Sometimes time, place and manner restrictions are imposed because of concerns for public order or in order to avoid too much disruption to daily life. Sometimes changes are imposed to avoid undue restrictions on the civil rights of others. Sometimes restrictions are imposed for the convenience of the police or other authorities.

  • In New York the police have imposed an arbitrary limit on the number of parades that they will permit on Fifth Avenue each year. As the main thoroughfare it is a popular route, but demonstrations along it disrupt city life and make undue demands on the police.

  • Similarly in Boston the police prefer to restrict the number of outdoor public events that are held on any one day. Restrictions are also imposed on the number of events held on weekdays or in areas where they will cause too much disruption. New events are therefore likely to be assigned the downtown commercial area on a Sunday in winter.

  • In Toronto the police will restrict the route of any demonstration if it is likely to disrupt trade and they favour Sundays for public assemblies.

  • In London large demonstrations in the West End are encouraged to rise 'traditional' and easily policed routes and are nor readily allowed on weekdays because of the disruption they can cause to traffic.

  • In each of these cases the right to demonstrate is upheld, but the context of the demonstration is largely determined by the authorities rather than by the organisers. Where possible this is done as a result of discussions or negotiations, rather than by arbitrary imposition.

8. Opposition

Attempting to stop a legal demonstration is an offence under the Public Order (NI) Order and will remain so under the new Public Processions (NI) Act. However the RUC have often responded to crowds of protesters by restraining a hitherto legal parade on the grounds that to do otherwise would cause serious disruption to public order. Unionists have complained that the police have failed to enforce the law, nationalists have insisted on their right to prevent parades going where they are not wanted. The result has been to undermine faith in the rule of law.

All public demonstrations make statements about the issues a group supports or opposes and demonstrations are, or should be able to be, provocative. They are therefore likely to provoke opposition or reaction from outsiders.

  • While it is widely accepted that demonstrations should be allowed to be provocative, all countries agree that there are limits to acceptable provocation; demonstrations should not be allowed to provoke fear or encourage violence. In many countries sensitivity is also paid to local ethnic or racial differences when considering the likely provocation a demonstration might cause.

  • Although many demonstrations may well provoke hostile opposition, it is generally accepted that such opposition should not be permitted to stop a legal demonstration.

  • In the USA the police accept that a 'hostile audience' should be allowed to protest within 'sight and sorind' of the target of their hostility, but should not be allowed to prevent the other demonstration from taking place.

  • In Israel the police are expected to protect legal demonstrations from hostile audiences even if the demonstration is being deliberately offensive. Police have protected demonstrators who mocked or satirised religious symbols.

  • In France and Italy counter-demonstrations are usually permitted relatively near to the demonstration that they are opposing, but are not allowed to interfere with it. In France the police have a responsibility to protect the right of legal demonstrations to follow their agreed route.

  • However, in spite of these assertions of upholding the right of legal demonstrations in practice counter-demonstrators are sometimes able to stop them or force them to be rerouted. It is nor unusual for far right or neo-Nazi demonstrations to be confronted and stopped in France, the UK and the USA by left-wing opponents.

9. Provocation and Fear

The public order legislation in Northern Ireland makes it an offence to incite feat, provocation and hatred towards people of different religious beliefs, colour, race, nationality, citizenship and ethnic and national origins, by the rise of words or behaviour or through the display of written material in a public place.

  • It is widely accepted that demonstrations can be restricted, re-routed or banned if there is concern that there is a deliberate attempt to provoke violence, to provoke fear or if there is a reasonable feat of a violent reaction.

  • In all countries town or city centres are usually regarded as neutral zones and all sections of the community have a right to demonstrate in such areas. Provocative demonstrations would usually be tolerated in such areas.

  • There are exceptions however. In France provocative demonstrations against a foreign state are often prohibited or restricted, many of these are planned for the centre of Paris. In Italy demonstrations that are considered seditious or against the state can be banned.

  • Residential neighbourhoods are more sensitive areas for demonstrations and there would be more concern about the nature of any such public assemblies.

  • Although the US Supreme Court eventually ruled that a neo-Nazi group should have been allowed to demonstrate in the heart of Skokie, a largely Jewish suburb of Chicago, other countries would be less tolerant of such behaviour.

  • In South Africa the police were wary of any ANC demonstrations that aimed to go near to Inkhata areas or vice versa.

  • In Israel Jewish demonstrations are nor usually allowed to pass through specifically Palestinian areas and, in general, caution is given to the sanctioning of demonstrations by outsiders in strongly Orthodox areas.

10. Appealing Constraints

At present there is no right of appeal against restrictions imposed on parades by the RUC. Under the Public Processions Act only the Chief Constable will have the right to appeal a determination of the Parades Commission. Although there is a general right to seek a judicial review of decisions concerning parades the judiciary will only consider whether the correct procedure has been followed and will not review the decision itself.

  • All countries accept that an agent of state authority will have power to ban or to impose constraints on a demonstration Constraints or changes to original plans are usually arrived at through negotiation with the organisers, however an agreed compromise is not always possible. In most countries some means of appeal against restrictions is possible.

  • In Israel the Supreme Court has been willing to hear an appeal against police restrictions on a demonstration at very short notice. On a number of occasions bans or restrictions have been overturned. The court actions have also led to clear directives being set out by the government to define the tights and limits that should structure police decision making.

  • In South Africa the newly enacted Regulation of Gatherings Act allows for the possibility of appeal against restrictions on demonstrations This has not been taken up to date.

  • In France, Italy and the USA appeals must go through the normal court system and therefore can take a considerable time. In the USA the Supreme Court has regularly overturned legal and bureaucratic constraints on the right to demonstrate, but cases often take several years to go through the complete judicial process.

  • In each case, until the appeal process has been completed, the original constraints on the demonstration remain in force.

  • An appeal may well consolidate, establish or extend the right of demonstrators bum because of the long time-scale involved may have little impact on their ability to hold the demonstration in the manner desired.

11. Policing

The RUC have overall and final responsibility for public order. The RUC will be expected to advise the Parades Commission of their assessment of the public order implications of any parade. The Chief Constable, alone, has the tight to appeal to the Secretary of State against a determination of the Parades Commission. The RUC also have the tight to invoke concerns for public order on the day of a parade and so overturn otherwise legally binding determinations.

  • In all jurisdictions the police are responsible both for maintaining public order and for facilitating the right of public assembly. They also have a duty to minimise disruption caused by demonstrations.

  • Policing demonstrations often also involves balancing concerns for law enforcement with those of public order. As a result illegal demonstrations sometimes have to be facilitated in order to minimise the risk of inure serious disorder.

  • In an ideal situation the involvement of police at demonstrations should be kept to a minimum level. In many cases the police do little more than control the traffic and maintain a discrete visible presence.

  • Ideal policing also involves working in conjunction with the organisers of a demonstration. Good lines of communication are an essential factor. In New York officers from the community relations department act as intermediaries between demonstrators and the front line police. In France the organisers of a demonstration are expected to be at irs head where they can be easily contacted.

  • In New York the police also have lawyers present to ensure that their officers comply with the letter of the law and that the rights of demonstrators are nor ignored.

  • Given their responsibilities for public order, the police must always be ready to deal with potential trouble. In all countries there are either special riot police units or specific riot training is given to all officers. Usually riot police are kept in reserve, at a distance or our of sight until or unless they are required.

  • A limited repertoire of weapons is used for riot control. The standard equipment includes helmets, shields and barons. Tear gas and water cannons are also available in a number of countries.

  • At times live ammunition is, or has been, used against demonstrators or protesters. In Israel live ammunition is used against Palestinian demonstrators, but never against Jewish Israelis. In South Africa live ammunition was used under the apartheid regime, and was available in Italy until the early 1980s.

  • Only the Israeli security forces rise rubber or plastic bullets. They have never been considered as an option in Italy. In France they were tried, but were considered too dangerous.

  • In situations of serious political or social conflict the police are often regarded as partial and are identified by demonstrators as an opponent. Police action or even their presence at demonstrations can therefore provoke rather than restrain rioting and other violence.

  • Violent clashes between demonstrators and police occurred frequently in Italy in the late 1940s and early l950s and again during the l970s; in South Africa in the late l980s and early 1990s and clashes continue between the Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

  • In Italy the reform and demilitarisation of the police in 1981 was a factor in reducing the political violence. Similarly in South Africa reform and restructuring of the police force has been an essential part of the transition from apartheid to democracy.

13. Alcohol

Consumption of alcohol has been acknowledged as one source of problems am parades and it is widely accepted that this issue needs to be dealt with. To date the RUC appear to have been reluctant to address this problem. Under the new legislation the police will have greater powers to confiscate alcohol being carried or consumed in the vicinity of a parade route and to stop and search vehicles going to parades if it is suspected that they are carrying alcohol. It remains to be seen whether such powers will be exercised.

  • The consumption of alcohol is a prominent feature of many public celebrations. Some degree of licence is given to public drinking am demonstrations on public holidays and carnival or carnival-like events. However, there is always a fragile balance between acceptable use and over-consumption and abuse.

  • In both Boston and New York excessive public drinking on St Patrick's Day had become a serious problem by the 1980s. Drunkenness led to extensive violence and attacks on police officers.

  • In the late 1980s new regimes were introduced to prohibit on street drinking and police were empowered to confiscate alcohol in the vicinity of the parades. The police feel that within a few years the nature of the parades had changed and had become more family orientated and publicly acceptable events.

  • In Toronto similar problems were associated with the West Indian Caribana parade and festival. While less severe restrictions were imposed, the police were able to constrain the sale and consumption of alcohol to specific areas of the celebrations.

  • There is also an issue of the consumption of illegal drugs at some events like the Toronto Carabana festival and the Notting Hill Carnival. In both cities police have said that they are conscious of the potential for charges of racial harassment in such situations and accept that some degree of licence must be given.

© CCRU 1998-1999
site developed by: Martin Melaugh
page last modified:
Back to the top of this page