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Independent Intervention

Monitoring the police, parades and public order

8. Future monitoring

There are undoubtedly groups and individuals that have been left out of this account of monitoring in Northern Ireland. Yet even this brief discussion gives some idea of the rich variety of groups taking on the roles of monitors and attempting, in a diverse manner, to facilitate non-violent resolution to conflicts over the use of public space. In this final section we concentrate on three of the forms of monitoring that we have discussed earlier - human-rights monitors, community-based monitors and stewards - whose work we believe could be most usefully supported and encouraged over the next few years in Northern Ireland. We conclude by suggesting some possible areas for future development of monitoring and a number of recommendations for developing each of the three categories of activity.

Developing monitoring

For much of the 1970s and 1980s the nature of violent conflict in the north, particularly the strategies used by paramilitary groups and the forces of the state, and the relative difficulties of mobilising peaceful street protests, meant that there were limited possibilities to use monitors. The increase in peaceful protests against parades has largely been a product of the declaration of the paramilitary ceasefires. These created the space and the sense of safety to encourage people to take to the streets again. The peace process, and the support for the Good Friday Agreement, has indicated widespread commitment to the search for a peaceful resolution of conflicting rights, but has not in itself resolved the conflicts. As such, there is a need to use methods of conflict resolution, and to that end the role of monitors in public situations could become crucial.

Experience in Northern Ireland since the parades disputes erupted in 1995 illustrates the often valuable role monitors can play at times of low-level public disorder. They help to illustrate how maintaining public order is a policing problem in the widest possible sense of the word. It is not just a problem for the police; rather, it is the responsibility of civil society as a whole. Each of the three categories of monitors has a specific relationship with the formal policing structures:

  • human-rights monitors observe and critically appraise police behaviour,
  • community-based monitors intervene in low-level disorder and reduce the need for police activity, and
  • stewards ‘police’ their own organisation and act as intermediaries with the police.

These practices have been developed and extended through the experiences of public disorder and political tension of the recent marching seasons and, in general, have contributed to the reduction in public violence each year since 1996.

Over this time the RUC has recoguised the status of monitors and has usually facilitated them in their work. Relations between monitors and the security forces have been good and it seems that the RUC has accepted that there is a legitimate role to be played by the wide variety of groups often present. The difficulties created by low-level and recurrent violence and disruption have also led many within the wider society to adopt a pragmatic approach to dealing with the police, even while they retain a critique of the structures of the RUC. The experiences and practices we have described in earlier sections of this report therefore offer examples of how the policing of public disorder might be approached under a new police structure, and they perhaps indicate how civil society can take a greater responsibility for maintaining the peace.

Until now, the development of monitoring has been ad hoc and dependent upon different interest groups. However, the Good Friday Agreement entails a range of new political structures for Northern Ireland. As well as the Assembly, these include the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission. The Patten commission was, at the time of writing, still examining reform of the RUC and the Parades Commission has statutory powers to make determinations on parades and demonstrations. A number of questions can be asked of the role that civil society could play in supporting the moves towards a peaceful and democratic society:

  • could independent monitoring be developed on a more formal basis, to support the work of the new bodies and help to consolidate the transition?
  • could one of the new institutions monitor the peace for all communities and hold people to account for possible violations?
  • could police accountability be improved if independent monitoring groups were given closer access to public order operations? and
  • could monitors working to a cross-party group in the Assembly improve the possibility of peaceful intervention at public-order events and help reduce violence?

The Human Rights Commission could develop a particular interest in the activities of monitors, in particular human-rights monitors. However, it will have neither the range of powers nor the resources to undertake the range of activities currently undertaken on a voluntary basis by the CAJ (Livingstone 1999). This might well prove to be a missed opportunity.

The Parades Commission already has a specific responsibility to monitor behaviour at parades and has its own network of monitors in the form of the authorised officers. However, it would also seem to be in its interest to build a better and broader working relationship with the independent monitoring groups, to gather as wide a range of information as possible on what takes place at parades. Monitors could supply an independent and informed perspective on the flow of events to the commission that is perhaps currently unavailable to it.

As for the Patten commission, during its public consultations it was clear that issues of community policing and public accountability were of significant concern in many areas. Monitoring groups may well be able to feed into any new structures to improve police-community relations.

However, there may be disadvantages to creating a more formal system. Many of the groups that currently act as monitors and observers can do so because of their independence from the state and because they take a critical position towards state agencies. We believe there will always be a need for such groups. Experience in other jurisdictions, such as South Africa during a period of political transition, reveals the powerful role observers and monitors can play if they remain independent but also engage more closely with the structures of a formal political process. Retaining a critical independence and engaging in conflict resolution has proved an important factor at such times and could do so in Northern Ireland as well.

This is not naively to suggest that monitors are a panacea or a replacement for state agencies, political parties or other interest groups, but to acknowledge the contribution they can make under certain conditions. Whether they are allowed to make such a contribution is another matter. The experience of international monitors in Kosovo during the early months of 1999, who came under attack from Serbian forces hostile to their presence, reminds us of the need to ensure the safety of individuals engaged as monitors. It also illustrates the need for an agreement by all parties that monitors will be allowed to play their part. To date, there have been isolated instances where monitors have been regarded as unwelcome visitors at public events but in a number of cases they have felt a need to keep their presence discreet.


Monitoring has largely developed as an indep endent form of activity, organised and funded in a relatively ad hoc manner. The different styles of monitoring and the diversity of groups involved imply an equally varied range of requirements if they are to be sustained or developed. We conclude this report by indicating ways in which monitoring needs to be supported if it is to be play a full role in the future.


A number of people involved in monitoring disputed parades met in Belfast in February 1999 to discuss ideas and approaches and to explore ways of improving and extending monitoring. The seminar did not produce any specific recommendations, but a number of principles were accepted:

  1. There should be a loose network of monitoring groups. This would have no formal structure or specific aims other than to enable people to maintain and extend contact with each other. It would also provide a point of contact for people or groups who want to join or set up monitoring groups. Many of the groups who attended the seminar are listed at the end of this report.

  2. Adopting a formal code of conduct or working to structured guidelines was considered a basic requirement of monitoring for many groups. Although there are a small number of common principles and practices, it was recommended that each group should devise its own framework. This report includes a number of examples of such codes of conduct.

  3. Some groups wanted to explore the possibility of developing a basic training programme for monitors. It was agreed that INNATE would serve as an initial point of contact for groups seeking training.

  4. It was accepted that it was important for monitoring groups to consider the impact their work could have. Each group should explore how it could improve distribution of reports and the flow of information and opinion to the main parties to the disputes.

Human-rights monitoring

To date, human-rights monitoring has focused on the policing of contentious parades and has been organised on a voluntary basis. This approach has been relatively successful, if limited in effectiveness. For example, neither the police nor any other body needs to take account of the information gathered by monitors or the analysis derived from their observations. Furthermore, monitors have no special rights to access at contentious events and may be given less access than journalists.

  1. If at present human-rights monitors act as informal and unofficial observers of police practice, it is worth exploring the role they could play within future systems of police accountability in Northern Ireland. As reforms to policing are expected to increase accountability, human-rights monitors could act as in a similar manner vis-à-vis a future policing oversight body as the authorised officers do for the Parades Commission by providing first-hand evidence of policing practice.

  2. Alternatively, the Human Rights Commission could use monitors to evaluate specific human-rights abuses or areas where policing issues remain contentious. Such monitors could function as field officers for the commission, gathering evidence and preparing reports.

Community-based monitoring

Some individuals working with community-based monitoring groups attended the Belfast seminar and their interests and concerns are partly incorporated in the earlier section. But communitybased monitoring also has specific issues that need to be addressed if it is to continue:

  1. Funding is an important issue for some community-based monitors. Although the monitors act in a voluntary capacity, considerable costs can be incurred for basic equipment, particularly such items as mobile telephones. The north Belfast project has been funded through Making Belfast Work and the Derry project was funded through the Londonderry Development Office in 1998. The women in ION, on the other hand, supply their own equipment. If such projects are to be continued or others developed then the issue of financial support will have to be addressed. At present, there is no obvious source of funds for such community initiatives.

  2. Community-based monitoring projects have proved successful in north Belfast and in Derry and there has been interest in developing similar schemes in Portadown and elsewhere. However, so far there has been little recognition of such work outside these areas and the groups themselves do not have the capacity to promote it. As is the case with much work in the community sector, there is a need for appropriate documentation, evaluation and publication if this model is to be developed and extended.

  3. Community-based schemes can only really work in areas where significant community-development work has been undertaken and where community organisations and networks have been established and receive support. Such work is long-term and needs long-term funding. There is some uncertainty over what commitment will be given to community-development work under future political arrangements. This should be clarified to ensure projects can plan for the future.

  4. Community-based monitors could also feed into systems of police accountability established in a reformed context. At present, groups involved in such monitoring may have informal connections with the police but there are no formal structures which take account of their experiences.


All groups who organise parades and protests claim to provide stewards to control the people they bring on to the streets. However, stewarding has never been treated as a formal requirement, no appropriate numbers have been set down, no standards have been stipulated and no training is required.

  1. All groups have a responsibility to monitor and control the behaviour of their members and supporters at public events. Standards of stewarding should be defined in conjunction with an appropriate statutory body, rather than left to organisers alone.

  2. To facilitate improved stewarding a recognised training scheme should be available. A course has already been designed for training members of the Apprentice Boys. Training should be made more widely available and all relevant organisations should be encouraged to have an appropriate number of trained stewards.

  3. Establishing a formal programme for steward training at NVQ level would have a wider applicability than at parades. Irish League football clubs have significantly less responsibility to provide adequate stewards at their grounds than do their English and Scottish counterparts. Better stewarding would be one way to reduce the policing required at such events. A training programme could also be used to provide better quality stewards and security staff for open-air concerts and similar events and for doormen at bars and clubs.

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

9. Groups involved in Monitoring

Committee on the Administration of Justice, 45-47 Donegall Street, Belfast BT1 2FG

Community Development Centre, North Belfast, 22 Cliftonville Road, Belfast BT14 6AX

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104, USA

Independent Observer Network, 11 Ballyportery Road, Dunloy

Information on Ireland Campaign, 1202-298 Jarvis Street, Toronto; M5B 2M4, Canada

INNATE, 16 Ravensdene Park, Belfast BT6 ODA

Irish Parades Emergency Committee, 199 Prospect Place, Fourth Floor, Brooklyn, New York 11238, USA

Meath Peace Group, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co Meath

Mediation Network for Northern Ireland, 128A Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BG

Pat Finucane Centre, 1 Westend Park, Derry, BT48 9JF

Peace and Reconciliation Group, 18-20 Bishop Street, Derry, BT48 6PW

Peace Watch Ireland, P0 Box 2543, Boston MA 02130, USA

Table Campaign, Irish Missionary Union, Orwell Park, Rathgar, Dublin 6

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

10. References

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[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

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