Parades Commission – a separation of facilitating and determining

It’s not a surprise that Sir George Quigley has called for the Parades Commission to be reconstituted, given the fact that the recommendations he made in his 2002 report[pdf file] contained the same suggestion. Recommendations which, after a lengthy consultation process and a Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report, were subsequently rejected by the NIO minister at the time, Ian Pearson, in February 2005. The NIO followed up with another consultation, on suggestions for a mediation process, a consultation which was due to end in May 2005, although I haven’t been able to find a copy of the results of that.. yet.George Quigley’s report recommended the formation of a Parades Facilitation Agency and an independent Rights Body to make determination on parades –

28. A Parades Facilitation Agency should be established which would have general oversight of parades but no responsibility for Determinations or Compliance.

The Agency should:
(a) provide a Facilitation function;
(b) prepare Guidelines, Procedural Rules and Codes of Conduct;
(c) appoint parade monitors;
(d) undertake an education role; and
(e) prepare an Annual Report to be laid before both Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. (Paras 21.20, 21.21, 21.23 and 21.24).

29. The Agency should pursue an active Education role, including support (or encouraging support by other agencies) for ‘single identity’ initiatives where the Agency has a direct interest in development work contributing to greater mutual understanding. (Chapter 25)

30. A separate independent Rights Panel should be established to be the Determining Body in respect of Parades and Protests, charged with deciding whether restrictions should be placed on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others or for the protection of health or morals.

The Panel should:
(a) comprise a Chairman with legal qualifications who is appointed by the Lord Chancellor and two other members drawn from a list of suitable persons;
(b) have a Compliance Branch to monitor adherence to Determinations;
(c) produce an Annual Report; and
(d) be enabled to contribute to the legal costs of parties taking cases that raise points of general importance in regard to clarifying the application to parades or protests of Human Rights law. (Paras 21.11 to 21.17).

The NIAC, and the NIO’s position, on the structural arrangements was made clear in the Government reponse detailed in the NIAC report of July 2005

The Structural Arrangements

“The evidence we received indicates that the work of the Parades Commission has been broadly successful in ‘holding the ring’ in contentious parades. Others have been involved in helping to ease the tensions surrounding parades, especially at local level, and this has been stressed by several of those who gave evidence to us. However, this does not detract from the Commission’s contribution. Replacing the Commission with new organisational arrangements for which there is no broad consensus could undermine progress and place at serious risk the fragile stability which appears to have developed. The relative peacefulness of the 2003 and 2004 marching seasons is solid evidence that disputed parades are increasingly being resolved without recourse to violence. While the achievements to date should not be overestimated, we believe that the Parades Commission has made encouraging progress, and that retaining it offers the best hope for developing the peaceful resolution of disputes. (Paragraph 36)”

Parades have become increasingly peaceful over the past few years. The number of contentious parades has fallen. Out of approximately 2000 parades notified last year, only 200 were regarded as “contentious” and two resulted in serious public disorder incidents. The Government believes that this shows the success of the current arrangements in reducing tension. The Government’s position is that the case has not been made to make fundamental changes to the Parading arrangements and agrees with the Committee that the Parades Commission remains the best hope for developing the peaceful resolution of parades.

As Ian Pearson stated in his written statement to the Commons

WRITTEN MINISTERIAL STATEMENT ON PARADES

22 FEBRUARY 2005

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. lan Pearson):

I have been considering Sir George Quigley’s Review of Parades, the subsequent consultation on his report, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) report of January this year and the events of last summer. Each of these offers different perspectives on how to go forward and I have come to a balanced decision about how to respond.

I have decided that a case has not been made to make fundamental changes to parading arrangements in Northern Ireland. Parades have been increasingly peaceful over the last few years. The number of contentious parades has fallen. Out of approximately 2,000 parades notified last year, only 200 were regarded as ‘contentious’ and two resulted in serious public order incidents. I think this shows the success of the arrangements we have here in reducing tension. I want to echo the words of NIAC, which concluded that the Parades Commission remains the best hope for developing the peaceful resolution of disputes. I will therefore not be pressing forward with the changes recommended by Sir George Quigley at this time. I am, however, indebted to Sir George for his insightful and intelligent contribution to the debate around parades in Northern Ireland. Although I am not adopting his recommendations, my thinking has been greatly influenced by his work and I am, indebted to him for his insightful and intelligent contribution to the debate around parades in Northern Ireland.[added emphasis]

And since the focus remains on Peter Hain’s appointment to the Commission of Don MacKay and David Burrows, it’s worth looking again at the High Court ruling. Despite some of the interpretations being suggested, the ruling does not say that appointing members of the Orange Order to the Parades Commission in itself is unlawful, only that the appointments procedure undertaken by the NIO, as approved by the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, was unlawful – a point that Peter Hain emphasised in his released statement

The High Court ruling does, in fact, allow for the possibility of David Burrows re-applying… and being re-appointed to the current Parades Commission.