Dumbo v. The Parades Commission

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There was fierce competition for my favourite story this past while. It was a toss up between the Police in West Belfast who were too nervous to attend a scene following the report of a dead body and the Police who asked an elephant to fill out an 11-1 form for parading illegally in BangorI have been a enthusiastic supporter of the PSNI since its inception, but I am finding them increasingly difficult to defend, when stories like this make headlines. In the West Belfast story, a woman was completely compromised by being asked to check a report of a dead body on her street. The risk she was exposed to was mind boggling. If indeed it was a decoy, were they going to contend that it was more desirable to have Jane Public blown up as opposed to a member of the Service? It was a topsy turvy response in a topsy turvy society. If I see a suspicious object on my street, I call the police, not the other way around.

But the proverbial biscuit was taken when the owners of a circus were stopped by the Police in Bangor for leading their elephant down the road without the consent of the Parades Commission. I have been at hundreds of parades in Northern Ireland now since 2001 as an observer. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and have been welcomed, abused and ignored in equal measure. If I was to make one judgement on the issue of parades, from a completely personal point of view, I would say that tolerance and common sense are the two most severely lacking elements in the area.

I remember one of my first parades in Dunloy about 8 years ago. I was quite nervous about it, and didn’t want to ‘stick out’ too much, so I went and bought a copy of the Newsletter as a form of disguise. Unfortunately, it was eight o’clock in the morning and I had arrived on my motorbike in my leathers, so apart from the 6 members of the Lodge who were there and the Riot Squad, it was just ourselves on that lonely country road. As a catholic, I had little understanding then of why this ritual was so important, but I watched the men slowly walk around the garden of their Orange Hall as they were not allowed to do so on the street. After a couple of cold minutes in a ‘stand off’ with the Police, they hoiked themselves, their equipment and a wheelchair up on the bus for the day out to Derry.

I spent the day happily between doing a bit of shopping in Austins and watching the Apprentice Boys parade, before coming back to Dunloy. I’d had a pleasant day and to be honest it was a nice day out. When we got back to the Orange Hall, the Union Flag had been ripped down and someone had defecated on it. The gates had been smashed and fresh paint had been thrown at the Hall. My feelings turned very quickly to shame and it was around this time I began to wonder about how ‘oppressed’ we really were, and why on earth we think of one side good- one side bad.

Over the years I’ve seen almost everything, the hate and venom on both sides and the absolute lack of charity or clarity in how we deal with each other. I was once trapped in the front garden of St Matthew’s Church on the Newtownards Road, and felt absolutely terrified as those on parade went up the road shouting, screaming, threatening and being abusive. I realised it doesn’t matter whose side you are on, the fear can hit you anywhere and from any quarter.

But that to me is the point. Each side are hurting each other equally and often they dont even know why. Babies, toddlers and infants are all brought into the dispute being fed this hatred and fear with their mother’s milk. Over the time that I have observed parades, I have seen some excellent work done by some very brilliant and dedicated people. Mediators who work for little recognition or money, who have made these peaceful seasons possible. I also believe that there is a place for the Parades Commission, as it provides a safe space for people to come and express their feelings and fears. I think we still need this kind of place where open discussion can happen and where people can start slowly but surely to learn more about one another, and the opportunity to learn about compromises and sharing this small space we have.

But common sense has to be applied at all levels, and stopping a circus on the street and actually informing the owner that he was breaching the Parades Commission guidelines seems to me to be a new kind of lunacy. There is real work to be done and real progress being made. Why oh why would you want to damage this by making a laugh of the Parades Commission or the attendant legislation around parades? In order for policing to work, it requires the respect of the population, as well as the cooperation that will follow when that trust and respect have been established. Actions such as the two I’ve mentioned do nothing but remove respect and make some of us wonder what exactly it is that we are supporting.

  • Ann

    While I enjoyed the post it doesn’t really do anything for me I’m afraid, it reminds me of the little stories we read out at creative writing classes. I’m totally and honestly put off by such detail as the defecating on the union jack and in the grounds of the church, to draw anything philosophical from it, indeed if there is any lessons to be taken from it. Such incidents are bad, lets all condemn them, lets beat ourselves up about our past and how bad we were to each other and engage in a little love fest…

    Perhaps I’m desentised or maybe I feel we’ve reached saturation point with this kind of stuff. Why can’t we simply laugh at the elephant escapade and be done with it, or is there a lesson in there somewhere that I’ve missed?

  • Danny Boy

    I think the details are interesting, and necessary to show where Miss Fitz is coming from with this. I love the lunacy of the elephant incident, but the thought of answering the phone to hear a police officer say ‘Is there a body in your street?’ is appalling. I’ve lived in west Belfast for a couple of years now, and things like this do change the way you think about the PSNI, even if, like me, you would originally have had some sympathy for the difficult position they’re in. It’s hard to keep giving them the benefit of the doubt when, with things like this, it appears they certainly employ a lot of eejits.

  • dosser

    What do elephants and Orangemen have in common?

    They both cannot forget.

  • Harry Flashman

    There’s no lunacy in it, the previous police force was disbanded on the grounds that it was alleged they couldn’t be trusted to carry out the job they were expected to do in a common sense manner, parades were the subject of appalling violence because people could not bring themselves to deal with the issue in a commonsense manner.

    Given that, we all howled for the new system where individual commonsense would be replaced by box tickers and form fillers, throw in the human rights element, litigious lawyers, jobsworths and the health and safety brigade and you must face the law of unintended consequences.

    There are a lot of cantankerous old conservative gits (like me) who look at our infantilised society today and then hear people complain about how things have ended up and we harumph, rattle our Daily Telegraphs, pour ourselves another large gin and tonic (while it is still legal) and say;

    “Don’t look at me sunshine, this is what you wanted, welcome to your brave new world, enjoy it.”

  • Suilven

    “What do elephants and Orangemen have in common?

    They both cannot forget.”

    Or Dunloy Catholics, seemingly.

  • Rory

    The burning question that is raised by the juxtaposition of these two stories is this:

    Who is to designated to follow up a report of a dead elephant in a street?

  • Rory

    That should read “Who is to be designated…”.

  • Miss Fitz

    Well Rory, you must first answer the burning question. Was it a protestant elepant or a catholic elephant.

  • Rory

    Miss Fitz,

    I am surprised at you. It is an Indian elephant and the question should be, ” Hindu, Muslim or Sikh”. We Ulster folk are not alone in our need to define everything in religious terms, nor indeed to suffer a less than satisfactory police force (I never bought into the newspeak of ‘police service’).

  • CEO of a different CAA

    Shouldn’t this be a matter for the CAA?

  • Yvette Doll

    Have you ever seen what elephants can do when they are parading at you in a desperate attempt to disrupt a Discovery TV production budget? Don’t look around for Sarah Palin to do the needful,

    So don’t give me that Billy McKee stuff about St. Matthew’s, if it had been West Belfast, the PSNI would have phoned me up and said “Yvette, is there a herd of elephants trampling people to death in your street”

    Yvette Doll

  • Dewi

    I am now absolutely convinced that all parades should be banned. Just try it for twenty years.

  • cynic

    “the previous police force was disbanded on the grounds that it was alleged they couldn’t be trusted to carry out the job they were expected to do in a common sense manner”

    Oh the irony ….. £1 bn later and look what we got ….Stormont!

  • Yvette Doll

    “I am now absolutely convinced that all parades should be banned. Just try it for twenty years.”

    Don’t try banning that one in Riga or you will end up on Amnestyni’s photo blog thing.

    The story is sad, Cardinal Pujats hired Crimean Tatars, you don’t want the detailed description,

    Even I was shocked by the excesses of the slant eyes Gallowglasses as they hacked, pillaged, and otherwise put to the sword etc.

    That’s Catholicism for ya.

    Yvette Doll

    MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2008

    Amnesty International attacks cardinal on gay pride march
    Amnesty International is now, it seems, officially an enemy of the Church. We’ve come a long way from helping prisoners of conscience. This is a protest, in Belfast, against the Cardinal of Riga’s opposition to having a Gay Pride march in that city.

  • Nellie – the person? or the elephant?

    With regards to the elephants. While I’m not advocating or opposing the Parades Commission, the fault clearly lay with an over-eager peeler. The Public Processions NI Act refers to processions involving 3 or more PERSONS. Now as I understand it, in Bangor there were 2 elephants (Mamba and Mia according to the Tele) plus their trainers.

    That’s two PERSONS. If the PSNI officer(s) in question can seriouslt classify the elephants as another 2 PERSONS, thereby making 4 (or should that be five) then Hugh Orde should sack him, her or them, straight away.

  • Danny O’Connor

    Dumb and dumbo

  • Walt Disney

    Miss Fitz, expect a letter from my lawyers.

  • ellie

    Dosser – I think Tosser is more appropriate!!

  • latcheeco

    Thank Christ nobody had to sit down on the road to block that parade. Brendan McKenna is probably glad he was only blocking a pack of dinosaurs in Portadown and not Pachyderms in Bangor

  • Comrade Stalin

    In the case of the elephant, the situation does seem ridiculous. The problem is likely to be that the police do not have any discretion over the issue of parades, and that was taken from them during Drumcree ’95 when the Chief Constable made the decision to force the march down the Garvaghy Road. It’s likely that the legislation needs to be altered or clarified to ensure that circus acts and similar processions are not required to obtain permission.

    The “is there a dead body in your street?” thing in West Belfast, on the other hand, is completely inexcusable. Surely a plain clothes cop in an unmarked car could have driven by to check, if they were concerned about arousing suspicion.

  • Greenflag

    Great article by Miss Fitz our intrepid reporter from the elephantine front 😉

    But Dewi’s right . Ban all public parades for 20 years . Each tribe can pay their favourite tunes in halls or community centres or at concert venues . Otherwise keep them off the streets .

    It costs too much money in police overtime , litter clean up and public order disruptions , public drunkeness -etc etc . The shite is never ending . HMG wanted to ban Orange parades back in the 1800’s for similar reasons .

    The ‘diehards ‘ on either side can go to their respective aspirational ‘territories ‘ for a quick ‘parade’ fix . Papists and some Prods can go south for the St Patricks Day festivities and Orangemen can go to Glasgow or Rossknowlagh but they’ll have to behave themselves in both places more so than they would have to in NI.

  • What of those who march from neither tribe?

  • Miss Fitz

    The funny thing is Greenflag, after all of the parades I have seen and all of the good, bad, ugly etc., I would be quite passionate about the right to do so. I truly respect the right of the Loyal Orders to parade as they have done for so many years.

    However, as we know, with right comes responsibility. And that responsibility should bring respect for those who are living nearby.

    Unfortunately this society is crippled by the weight of history and mistrust. Events are not often not evaluated on their specific merits but by ancient wrongs and misgivings.

    On one occasion, I was on the Shankill on the 12th morning, looking around at the still drunk revellers, and I got chatting to a local resident who was disgusted. Trying to engage on a woman to woman basis, I started to talk about how teenage drinking is a curse in both communities and how we had more in common than that which divided us. We were chatting very well for ages and finding areas of agreement when she suddenly stopped, looked square at me and said ‘Aye, thats all right but yer still a fenian.’

    Still a bit of work to be done there!

  • John Furlong’s Ceylon

    “What of those who march from neither tribe?”

    You can still hold your traditional marches.

  • Driftwood

    Comrade Stalin
    On your point 20 I would like to propose an amendment to your proposal to avoid permission on elephants parading. That this should be before 11.30 pm.
    Leaving my local after said time and encountering such a beast on my way home could lead to severe trauma.
    How would the PSNI cope with a body lying prone on the street, shortly after elephants parading down such street? “excuse me ma’am, is there a body lying in your street, and have you seen any elephants in the area?”

  • spiritof07

    On the elephants story, at least the Parades Commission made it clear on Talkback that the fault here was entirely with the PSNI. The spokesman said they were not looking into the matter and “has better things to be doing.” a nice piece of straight talking.

  • Dev

    I think these two issues highlight the problem with policing in NI is now more about good old-fashioned incompetence than any sort of political bias.

    One of the previous posters said that the PSNI had no discretion in the case of Nellie & Dumbo, of course they did. If they had just used the commonsense they were born with & not intervened then no harm would have come of it, no one was likely to complain that the police weren’t doing their job.

    The other story is absolutley ridiculous, what was going through the mind of the guy (or gal) who rang that woman up to get her to check if there was a corpse in her street, I mean really what were they thinking?!

  • John Furlong’s Ceylan

    Police cannot tell grey from pink elephants.