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Text: Parades Commission ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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Public Processions and Parades
One of three statutory documents published by the Parades Commission following the commencement of the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, on 2 March 1998.

Chairman: Mr. Alistair Graham

Published by:
The Parades Commission
12th Floor, Windsor House,
6-12 Bedford Street,

This material is copyright Parades Commission, 1998, and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the Commission. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the publishers. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Public Processions and Parades
Guidelines for Commission Members


Foreword by the Chairman of the Parades Commission



Public Disorder or Damage to Property which may result from the Procession

Disruption to the life of the Community

Impact of the Procession on Relationships within the Community

Compliance with the Code of Conduct

The Desirability of allowing a Parade which has been customarily held on that Route to continue to be allowed to do so

Foreword by Alistair Graham, Chairman of the Parades Commission

The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act proposes new arrangements for regulating public processions in Northern Ireland. in particular, Section 2(2) provides that the Parades Commission may:

(a) facilitate mediation between parties to particular disputes conceming proposed public processions and take such other steps as appear to the Commission to be appropriate for resolving such disputes;
(b) issue determinations with respect to particular proposed public processions.

These Guidelines are produced in compliance with Section 5 of the Act. This requires the Commission to issue Guidelines which explain the factors that it will take into account in reaching decisions on whether to issue determinations which impose conditions on parades. A Code of Conduct, and Procedural Rules, which are also requirements of the Act are published alongside this document.

The Parades Commissions responsibilities will extend to all types of public procession, but in particular the Guidelines take fall account of events surrounding contentious parades in previous years. Moreover, they reflect the experience of the Commission gleaned in 1997 through our close involvement with parades in a number of areas and from our intensive consultation exercises in Portadown and Londonderry in drawing up these guidelines we have worked an the fundamental premise that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights are important rights to be enjoyed equally by all. We will not therefore seek to raise obstacles to the exercise of these rights unless there are compelling arguments to do so; arguments, for example, about the extent to which the exercise of those rights infringes upon the rights of others. The Guidelines are therefore designed to provide the Commission with a means of testing the validity of those counter arguments. in effect, they will provide a basis for establishing what is fair, just and reasonable in relation to any contentious parade.

The Guidelines do not represent a prescriptive framework to be applied rigidly to every situation, but they will help to ensure that the issue is considered in a wider and longer term framework. They represent a central plank in our approach to achieving our ultimate goal of reaching a situation in which parades can take place without conflict.

The Commission will make reference to these Guidelines and to the Procedural Rules primarily where it has not proved possible for parade organisers and protesters to achieve a consensus on proposals for parades. it is our fervent hope, therefore, that this will be on a declining number of occasions so that these documents, and ultimately the Commission itself will no longer be needed.

1. Introduction

1.1 The North Report points out that the right of peaceful assembly underpinned by the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, while important, is not absolute, it states that it is subject to limitations which are to be found both in the international documents and in the general law to protect the rights and freedoms of others or for the prevention of disorder or crime. The Report proposes that the following principles should underpin the community's future approach to parades and protests:

i) the right to peaceful free assembly should (subject to certain qualifications) be protected,
ii) the exercise of that right brings with it certain responsibilities; in particular, those seeking to exercise that right should take account of the likely effect on their relationships with other parts of the community and be prepared to temper their approach accordingly
iii) all those involved should work towards resolution of difficulties through local accommodation,
iv) in the exercise of their rights and responsibilities, those involved must not condone criminal acts or offensive behaviour
v) the legislation and its application must comply with the Governments obligations under international law, and provide no encouragement for those who seek to promote disorder
vi) the structure for, and process of adjudication for disputes over individual parades should be clear and applied consistently with as much openness as possible,
vii) any procedures for handling disputes over parades and the enforcement of subsequent decisions should be proportional to the issues at stoke.

The Guidelines therefore seek to embody these principles in supporting the Commission in the process of addressing individual contentious parades.

1.2 Section 8(1) of the Public Processions (Northern ireland) Act provides the Parades Commission with powers to impose conditions on public processions, and Section 8(6) proposes that in determining whether to impose such conditions the Commission should 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 of the procession on relationships within the community;
(d) any failure 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.

The paragraphs below describe what the Commission will take into account in respect of each of the above factors in reaching conclusions about processions.

2. Public Disorder or Damage to Property which may result from the Procession

2.1 Post experience has shown how decisions to allow or not allow contentious processions to proceed can provoke disorder, it would be naive of the Commission, therefore, to disregard this potential for disorder and damage to property in reaching its conclusions. The Commission will therefore seek the advice of the RUC on the public order ramifications of a decision and consider this factor alongside the other factors described below.

3. Disruption to the life of the Community

3.1 All processions, no matter how small, cause some disruption to community life, if only by temporarily curtailing the flow of traffic. That is an inevitable feature of processions which is not, by itself, sufficient to require that people should be constrained from exercising this fundamental human right. The question the Commission must therefore address is whether the level of disruption caused by the exercise of the right to assembly is disproportionate to the significance of the procession to those participating, or to the community they claim to represent. in gouging disruption, the Commission will take care to distinguish between disruption caused by the procession itself and disruption caused by any associated protest activity or police action token in response to that activity. The factors taken into account will include:

  • duration of the procession; and the degree of

    • restriction of freedom of movement by local residents.

    • restriction of access to shops or other businesses.

    • restriction of access to public amenities such as hospitals.

    • restriction of access to places of worship.

4. Impact of the Procession on Relationships within the Community

4.1 As the past has shown, there is huge potential far unresolved disputes over processions to create major and lasting rifts in relationships between communities in Northern Ireland. Often these disputes are symptoms of mare deeply rooted conflict but they can provoke a violent response which only serves to tear communities further apart. In attempting to gauge impact, the Commission will refer to a number of factors:

4.2 Location and Route: As a very general rule the Commission will regard the commercial centres of towns and cities as neutral zones and will be inclined to support the case for processions, or those parts of processions that are held in such areas, invariably though, parades pass through areas which have a variety of characteristics on their way to or from town or city centres. Where residents and parade organisers ore in conflict over proposals for parades to pass through individual areas, the Commission will take into account:

  • the extent to which contested ports of the route comprise mainly residential or commercial property.
  • the demographic balance among the residents in the immediate area surrounding any contested parts of the route
  • the presence of sites such as monuments or churches of other traditions or other sites associated with past events which give rise to sensitivity within the community.
  • the purpose of the parade and whether the route is necessary or proportional to that.
  • the availability of alternative routes which are non-controversial.

4.3 Type and Frequency of Parades:

The Commission recognises as a general principle that residents along the route of a parade have the reasonable expectation not to feel fear or a sense of intimidation because a parade is planned. Again, past events in the area will have a bearing on local sensitivities, in attempting to measure fear or sense of intimidation the Commission will take into account:

  • the purpose of the parade.
  • the numbers taking port.
  • past experience of the manner in which the parade has been conducted.
  • the regalia associated with the parade.
  • the nature and number of bands that will participate and the type of music they will play
  • the frequency of such parades along the route.

The Commission will also wish to know what steps hove been taken by the parade organisers in order to address any fears and concerns about the procession. it will expect to see evidence of a real attempt to address the concems of others and, where possible, a balance struck in agreements between the organisers of processions and those who oppose them, reflecting tolerance, respect and understanding on both parts.

4.4 The Broader Context: There are other important considerations in gouging impact of the parades on relationships within the community. in some areas there has been a long history of inter-community strife, much of which precedes any contention about parades and has its roots in facets of the longer term conflict that has taken place across Northern ireland. it would clearly be wrong for the Commission to take decisions in isolation from these circumstances and through the procedures that it will adopt it must hear at first hand the testimony from all parties as to the relationship between those circumstances and the proposed parade. Where there has been a year on year history of conflict surrounding the parade, the Commission will take into account the demonstrable impact of decisions token regarding that parade in previous years not only on the immediate community but on the wider Northern ireland community.

5. Compliance with the Code of Conduct

5.1 The Parades Commission will expect that, with effect from the date on which it comes into operation, orgonisers of, and participants in parades and related protest meetings will comply with the Code of Conduct or any other document prepared by the organiser and approved by the Commission. The Code represents a checklist to be used by organisers of parades to ensure that the minimum of disruption or offence is caused by the proposed event, in particular, it emphasises the importance that the Commission attaches to the need for organisers to take steps to address the concems which residents may hove about the planned event, as well as how participants in both parades and related protest meetings should behave on the day it emphasises the Commission's preference for conflicts over parades to be resolved through communication between those in dispute. Where, however, communication is problematic, the Commission will expect disputants to explore how to resolve the problem, including, for example, seeking assistance from facilitators. Their purpose will be to improve understanding and, where possible, to assist in reaching agreement.

5.2 The Code spans a wide spectrum of issues and in assessing compliance with it, the Commission will expect to see evidence from orgonisers of the steps they have taken to meet its requirements, as well as evidence from residents and others to support any allegation of infringement. The Commission, in reaching a final decision about a proposed parade will take account of the extent to which parade organisers hove complied with the Code in preparation for the parade. it will also take into account the extent to which the participants in the parade and related protest meetings complied with the Code during previous parades.

6. The Desirability of allowing a Parade which has been customarily held on that Route to continue to be allowed to do so

6.1 The Commission recognises the premium attached by many to the concept of tradition in relation to parades. in considering other aspects of parades the Commission will in particular take into account the extent to which the proposed route is longstanding and weigh this important factor along with the others in reaching conclusions.

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