“A rights-based approach..”

Here’s Stormont Live’s coverage of the launch of the Strategic Review of Parading in Northern Irleand’s interim report yesterday. There are other reactions and reports here.

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  • Debbie

    Nationalist residents’ leaders in two of the most contentious marches – the lower Ormeau in South Belfast and Garvaghy Road in Portadown – accused the body of coming up with a model which could lead to parading decisions being politically influenced..

    These decisions should be taken at local level not politically influenced to suit any political party. This is one area where Sinn Fein and the Human Rights issue will come in to conflict. This could work against the people who live there. You cannot take away the residents concerns and allow a political decision for a parade to walk down Garvaghy Road or along the Ormeau Road without the agreement of those who live there. This is their decision – no one elses! Dolores Kelly is correct human rights are not absolute, and now the sdlp will be left to speak on behalf of residents and look out for their concerns whilst SF acts in its own political interest.

  • Bigger Picture

    This may be a bit of a sweeping statement but I really don’t like Dolores Kelly. I don’t know why and I don’t know where it comes from but there you go..

  • Pete Baker

    Let’s keep to the ball, BP.

  • good grief

    The problem there Debbie is the residents will always say “No March” and the comedians in the various organisations will always say “March!” You cannot defend the right of the residents without defending the right to free assembly.

    It’s up to our elected officials to mediate, not some unaccountable quango, nor the SDLP alone. Mature government must repect both sides legal rights and make a decision based on that assessment.

    It would be easier for the SDLP to stand in oppostion here and score some cheap political points, but the progressive approach would be help resolve the issues. Investigated agreed routes, investigate non-triumphal ways of getting these parades through local areas. I’m afraid “it’s their decision and no one elses” doesn’t confront reality at all. It’s idealistic, it’d be nice, but it ain’t gonna happen.

    Agreement is required, this can only be achieved by the the Executive and local representatives engaging with the OO. SDLP can get on board with that or they can play victim politics from the sideline. Same goes for the UUP, Alliance or anyone else.

    Either that or Diamond Dave will have save the day…. : )

  • Ben

    Rights-decision making based on local circumstances is a prescription for inconsistency and strife. Why design a system where one community’s rights are judged to trump another community’s rights? The parading issue should be steered toward mediation and principles based on needs, that approach can draw the sides away from zero-sum absolutes and engender cooperation rather than conflict. No surprise that this report is a step backwards, but it’s a pity. Ben

  • bob

    The fact is that the right-based approach will mean that freedom of expression has precedent over intolerance. This is well established in Europe and is the correct interpretation of the relevant human rights law.

    A number of cases of emphasised this point. The state have an obligation to protect the right of minorities to express their culture/politics/religion. This explicitly includes the right to march in the relevant european jurisprudence.


    Not only this, but the residence groups realised that any “mediation” or “negotiation” will have to result in a compromise agreement – this will mean that they will have to give something. We all know that they don’t want to “give and inch”!

  • bob

    I am using “minority” here to indicate minority beliefs (such as wishing to be a member and identifying with the views of the orange order).

    …that should also read “not an inch”!

  • Ben

    You’re stacking the argument with your choice of terms Bob. I agree with you, it’s not a case of two finely balanced and equal rights, it’s far more complex than that. All the fault for the infringement of rights and intolerance lies with the residents, none with marchers or bands? You’re proving the flaw in a rights-based system. A better approach would be that marchers need to march, and residents need to feel secure and respected… that path will lead to compromise, as has been the case with the ABOD in D/Ld. When you start to create a hierarchy of rights I think you minimise the likelihood of successful community relations around a contentious issue. Dialogue around rights is less productive, as experience shows. Good luck to you though. Ben

  • good grief

    We’ve been fruitlessly screaming “rights” at each other for years on this issue. Acceptance of a few realities (marches will happen / certain residents will object) coupled with the understanding that both sides will have to give on something is the way forward. Rulings on these parades should be made public as far in advance as possible, those protesting or marchijng illegally should be deterred by the Police.

    I make no secret of my distain for these marches, but i feel they should be allowed based on consent and firm policing of both sides.

  • Wolfe Tone

    These tit-for-tat rights arguments are tired and already well-rehearsed. Rights language has been used by both ‘sides’ to defend entrenched positions. Surely, what’s now needed is more nuanced decision making – as Delores says, the various rights potentially at stake in a parades dispute are not absolute.

    This means that an adjudicator must make an informed and carefully balanced decision about whether the competing rights claimed in any given situation are relevant and actually engaged. In other words, has the threshold, established by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to a particular right, actually been met? If so, are there legitimate reasons (ie those provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights) for limiting those rights? Until human rights decisions are taken in this way, then a so-called ‘rights based approach’ will only continue to be a stick for each side to beat the other with.

    It is noteworthy that the report also highlights the right to freedom from harassment, and states that its protection should be regarded as ‘an indisputable imperative’:

    ‘…In determining whether the right to freedom from harassment is engaged, consideration should be given to:
    • whether there has been repeated conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating the individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating
    • any special significance of the date of the assembly, and any insignia, uniforms, emblems, music, flags or banners to be displayed during the assembly, taking into account local histories and the demographic profile of an area;
    • whether there is evidence of sectarian or racist motivation;
    • the susceptibility/vulnerability of the particular audience to such displays;
    • the nature and frequency of similar assemblies in that locality;
    • any steps taken by the organiser to prevent the creation of an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating environment.’

  • Debbie

    I see Brid Rogers in todays Irish News with some sound words.

    “But Ms Rodgers said giving responsibility for the Drumcree parade to “unionist-dominated Craigavon Council given its track record” would be “funny if it weren’t so serious.”

    Ms Rodgers, who stepped down from front-line politics in 2004, said she feared the residents of the Garvaghy Road would pay a heavy price if the disputed parade was put back in the hands of politicians.

    The truth is that Drumcree is no longer an issue. Buiochas le Dia (thanks be to God) Portadown has been an easier and more relaxed place for both nationalists and unionists during the marching season in recent years.

    “The big question is why oh why open up once more a potentially explosive issue that is thankfully dead and buried,” she said.

    She is right, Drumcree is dead and buried. Best leave it that way.

  • Wolfe Tone

    Debbie, I agree with you (and both Brid Rodgers and Dolores Kelly) that the reduction in tensions at Drumcree over recent years is very welcome.

    I also think that the Orange Order continue to keep the pot on the boil. The weekly notifications to parade along the Garvaghy Road could potentially be construed as harassment. And it must also be asked of unionists whether nationalists or republicans in Portadown would feel able to fully enjoy their rights in Portadown town centre.

    Yet, in resolving any dispute, surely it is important that all parties buy into the resolution? To say that Drumcree is ‘no longer an issue’ or that it is ‘dead and buried’ is to ignore one party’s perception altogether. As such, can this really be the basis of a durable resolution in Portadown?

    True, the right to freedom of assembly is not absolute. This means that parade routes cannot be dictated by the Orange Order – the right to parade a particular route is not implicit in the right to assemble. Furthermore, even peaceful assembly can be restricted in the interests of public order or to protect the rights of others. This requires a balance to be struck where residents raise valid rights considerations.

    Yet I would also ask, what is to stop the Parades Commission from ruling in the future that a parade should process along the Garvaghy Road? Determinations from the Commission in the last year (albeit noting the ‘illegality’ of the appointments of the two Orangemen) have explicitly said that “the Commission wishes also to be absolutely clear that it does not see the current situation as a long-term resolution to parading in Portadown.”

    Ironically, one (political) factor preventing such a determination are the incessant reviews (including that of the Ashdown body) of the Parades Commission. No Parades Commission would want its final legacy to be a return to violence on the scale witnessed in the mid-late 1990s (if that is what would happen?)

    Having said that, I think Dolores Kelly and Brid Rodgers are misinterpreting the Ashdown proposals when they say they would give responsibility for the Drumcree parade to “unionist-dominated Craigavon Council.” Rather, the proposals locate administrative responsibility for notifications, objections, and initial dialogue with the Office of the Chief Executive – not elected councillors.

  • bob

    Freedom from harassment? Is that in the European Convention of Human Rights? If it is I havn’t come across it. There is a Right to Private and Family Life but that is very different.

    I accept however, that there is a conflict of “rights” at play here. The point I was trying to make however is that European Human Rights jurisprudence clearly shows that where it has been deemed that both rights are engaged, freedom of expression must take precedent – even to the point where the state MUST protect marchers (regardless of how unpalatable their beliefs). This was not a NI case but the circumstances are certainly comparable.

    The reality is that this proposal means that both sides will have to sit down and hammer out a compromise. I agree (as previously stated) that this will mean give and take on BOTH sides. I have to say that I think that is what is concerning the residents – they simply don’t want to “give”.

    If we extended the intolerance of residents “our area” mentality then there would be plenty of currently “shared spaces” in towns across NI where nationalist right to freedom of expression would be severely constrained.

    To use as an example – what if the majority of residents in the New Victoria Centre apartments were unionist and decided that as “residents” they did not want tricolour waving St Pats parade supporters walking down or near chichester street on St Pats day? How many would support that view? (this anaology is obviously interchangable with a number of scenarios)