For or against the Parades Commission, in lieu of joint leadership it is likely to stay…

Two interesting pieces in two different papers impinge upon the future fate of the Parades Commisson. So far as we know the Ashdown reports argues for its abolition, and replacement with a two tier mechanism putting dispute resolution in the hands of local councils, with appeals being run up to OFMdFM… Yep, that OFMdFM… The one that can’t make any decisions about what papers to put before the Executive… Given the stand off, Fionnuala O’Connor in today’s Irish News doesn’t believe that it can be got rid of:

The DUP will almost certainly be unable to wipe away the Parades Commission and the programmes that have made parades more orderly, the loyal orders more responsive to complaints about routes and which have reduced the number of recurrent crisis points to something close to the total of seven cited by Gerry Adams. An incoming Conservative government in London will be crass and uncaring in many respects but is unlikely to take chances with a comparatively peaceful Northern Ireland. The Parades Commission has made mistakes but its overall record is plain – it has helped to pacify a source of grievance and discord.

And Liam Clarke in the Newsletter wonders why Peter Robinson has upped the ante on policing and by including the Parades Commission as a dead breaker:

Senior members of both Sinn Fein and the DUP who have assured me there could be a real crunch coming. Yet these are two issues about which there have been no demonstrations, no mass petitions and no threats of violence.

They are seldom mentioned except by the politicians and commentators who operate within the Stormont bubble. It is hard to see how the devolution of policing became such a republican cause that Sinn Fein held up Executive meetings for five months over the head of it.

Whatever happens, the Chief Constable will retain operational independence and the Policing Board will hold his force accountable. The minister will do little more than administer the budget, though there may be more work on the justice side. When Sinn Fein and the British government made it such a big issue that gave the DUP leverage which Peter Robinson used to extract concessions.


So why, at the last moment, did Robinson elevate the abolition of the Parades Commission, long a policy objective, into a deal breaker? Statistics would suggest it isn’t such a do or die issue as all that. The Omnibus Survey, conducted by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) shows growing acceptance of the Commission. Just over half the population (56 per cent) now believe that the Commission has improved the situation overall compared to 20 per cent in 2001. For Protestants alone, approval for the Commission has gone up from eight per cent in 2001 to 39 per cent this year.

That is a fivefold increase and it is on a rising trend. People have other concerns. Membership of the loyal orders is falling and parading causes less trouble each year.

Another sham fight? Not exactly. It’s all to do with nursing the base. The DUP is focused on minimising the damage it will sustain in next year’s general election. With Sinn Fein its more to do with esoteric concerns about the man with executive oversight of the cops is ‘Irish’, and that bond of trust between the corporate body of the Ard Fheis and the Ard Comhairle it has thus far been unable to redeem.

And it is probably also something to do with the very conservative nature of the beast born of the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements. The embarrassing truth is that it is majority and minority rule for anything that anyone wants to get down. The mutual veto creates a deterrent to either partner wanting to race ahead without the other…

And one that probably ensures the government by quango will continue long into the future. For a commission who’s first chair promised his job was to lead it into a situation where it was no longer needed, that in lieu of a determined and joint political leadership, the Parades Commission, like the poor, will always be with us. Whether we like it – or whether it is a good thing – or not.

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  • Brendan,Belfast

    Mick it is not really a case of ‘so far as we know’, the full interim report which you might imagine would point the way towards a final report (it was a unanimous interim report after all) is available here,

    The imagined role of OFMDFM is very clear.

  • In lieu, Mick, in lieu.

  • fair_deal

    P&J is the last big piece of the jigsaw and only a fool would not utilise its full potential for change. Also parading has clear implications on P&J so it isn’t a tangental issue.

    “it can be got rid of”

    It was created by legislation and can be abolished by legislation. The bill to do so is pretty much drafted.

    “run up to OFMdFM… Yep, that OFMdFM… The one that can’t make any decisions about what papers to put before the Executive”

    A decision goes to an independent 3 member adjudication panel appointed by OFMDFM not to the office itself.

    “the programmes that have made parades more orderly”

    Whoever said they wanted to “wipe away” such programmes?

    “Yet these are two issues about which there have been no demonstrations, no mass petitions and no threats of violence.”

    The Loyal Orders have been consistently raising them with the political parties plus the implication that unless an issue comes with a threat of violence then it should be ignored is pathetic.

    It also validates the DUP deicsion to operate the process from within as opposed to the TUV route of external opposition.

    “Membership of the loyal orders is falling”

    This ignores the corresponding expansion in the band sector and continuing popularity of the 12th.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re. “It is hard to see how the devolution of policing became such a republican cause that Sinn Fein held up Executive meetings for five months over the head of it.”

    It is far harder to see how someone can become an established political columnist and not know what the feck is going on around them.

    re. the Parades issue.

    No sane person would force/allow a sectarian march through a residential Nationalist area, just as no sane perosn would force a BNP parade through an Asain area in Britian, and as long as SF are satisified that whatever replaces the Parades Commission is populated by sane people (or the deciding vote will lie with a sane person) then they sholud explore all options – which is what hopefully they are currently doing.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry horse. Was under pressure to go to a parents meeting before I posted that…

  • Yeah, don’t mind me – I had a pedantry sandwich for lunch!


  • Brian Walker

    This was a slow burning fuse, wasn’t it? The Report of the Assembly’s Executive Review Committee on the transfer of J&P powers (March 2008) makes clear the failure to agree over the transfer of parades legislation.


    “The Parades Commission
    The Committee noted that there is an ongoing ‘Strategic Review of Parading’ chaired by Lord Ashdown.
    There were diverse opinions about the transfer of matters relating to the ‘Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998’ and there was no consensus about whether this should continue to be a reserved matter.
    That either BEFORE, OR FOLLOWING devolution of a range of agreed policing and justice matters, the Assembly should conduct a review of those matters relating to the ‘Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998’, to consider if, and when, these should be transferred.

    Recommendation 9
    The Committee recommends that either before, or following, devolution of the range of policing and justice matters identified in this report, the Assembly should conduct a review of those matters relating to the ‘Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998’, and having regard to the outcome of the ‘Strategic Review of Parading’, should consider if, and when, they should be transferred.”

    Note the “before or following” devolution ref. It was a sticky point but not a complete barrier in the report.

    See also the useful annex 3 of what would and would not devolve. The Minister indeed has largely supervisory functions but more importantly the Assembly would take over responsibility for the range of domestic lawmaking apart for some “reserved” and all “excepted” matters, like counter terrorism,customs and revenue, immigration and apparently family law, (not mentioned here.) The Assembly must operate within the Human Rights Act and equality legislative framework.

    Far too little attention has been paid to how the Assembly would exercise its lawmaking functions, rather than the gamesmanship over the transfer itself.

  • Drumlins Rock

    the parades commission needs some reform from purely an administrative point of view for example try finding a Sergent to submitt an 11/1 form to for a 100yard walk past a few cows, its one piece of admin the police dont need, also the requirement to name one organiser when it is a group is unfair,

    but i suspect the DUP are just using it to buy off some of their objectors.

    also do you realise that after P&J is transfered, what is the role of the NIO? not sure what role it has left.

    finally, everyone concentrates on the policing side of things, but the justice dept could be much more of a poisioned chalice, do you think Davy has the balls to take on that lot?

  • cut_the_bull

    The Loyalist bands and the OO know just how much they can get away with in relation to the issue of marching where,when and how they want.
    They know the weakness of the parades commission, the PSNI and the PPS.
    Each of these groups have at least showed a tacit acceptance of sectarianism tied in with parading.
    The march organised by the Pride of the Raven flute band protesting against Anna Lo writbg a letter to the chairman of this band is a typical example.
    The Parades Commission,PSNI,Belfast Chamber of Commerce and much of the media,were shocked that such a racist parade should ever have been considered by the Pride of the Raven. District 6 lol on the other hand called on all Orange men to support and attend the parade.
    The voices that spoke of shock and horror in relation to this parade where silent when the same band breached Prades Commision determinations three yeras in a row and again this year making it four on the last Saturday in August Royal Black parade.
    No one has ever been prosecuted,the ParadesCommission has not taken any action or even strengthened its determination to this ongoing breach of its determination. So Iguess some parades are different than others just as some ism’s are more palatable than others. Is it a case of Racism is stinking but sectariansm doesnt smell that bad

  • joeCanuck

    the requirement to name one organiser when it is a group is unfair

    Nothing new about that. When I was a student in 1969, a student group (forerunner of the P.D.) wanted to march to protest RUC actions in beating marchers in (London)Derry. The meeting was told that we would have to submit a request to the RUC signed by someone. This momentarily caused a delay until a young woman stood up, said she was an orphan and it didn’t matter if she went to jail and would submit the request. It was the first time I heard her speak at a student meeting. Her name was Bernadette Devlin.

  • cut_the_bull

    Would it be fairer if an individual/individuals signed for a parade on behalf of an organisation/political party/band or any other group which wanted to march.
    Would it be better if before any parade was aloowed to happen that which ever group organising the event paid for the policing of the event and for any damage caysed as a result of trouble as a result of the event and also be responsible for paying the council for any clean up operation after fhe event.
    The organiser would have to provide bank account details in the name of which ever group wishing to hold a parade and the policing and council cost cost could be deducted.
    The organiser would have to prove the ability to pay any other money should they be made accountable for any damage caused as a result of the event.
    This would yake the responsiblity away from any individual and I bet tere would be a lot fewer parades.

  • cut_the_bull

    sorry for the mistakes as Im typing almost in darkness


    It always seemed to me that the issue of parades gets disproportionate political attention, and the figures quoted today by Liam Clarke support that view.

    So it turns out that the majority of people overall, and ever increasing numbers of protestants, think the Commission is doing a decent job. I bet the vast, vast majority of people, (90%?) couldn’t give a damn about parades one way or another. So why does the DUP and UUP make such a big play of ‘getting rid’ of the Commission?

    its just appealing to the lowest common denominator – and it is unsightly.

  • Seimi

    If the figures are right, and a majority of the people here (56%) think the Commission is doing a good job, why is Peter Robinson even suggesting that it be done away with? Who is he trying to get rid of it FOR? Whoever it is, they seem to be in the minority…

  • Some very stereotypical comments appearing here re parades, but they have been addressed before so its pretty pointless wasting more ‘ink’ and continuing another tit for tat.

    For information- the general consensus among the Loyalist Marching band movement (which, before people attempt to marginalise that as insignificant, consists of over 660 bands and an estimated 30’000 directly active members) is that they are reasonably content with the PC. Yes there are decisions that they disagree with, but there is a feeling that it is becoming a less partisan body than in origin. For example, from once being a total boycott from Loyalism, i think every element of Loyalism regularly now engages with it.

    Those that do edge toward the Ashdown type reform say it is a better option because come irreconcilable dispute legal frameworks will settle decisions. Which most beleive to support the right to parade.

    Almost universally its thought that the DUP are using the PC issue to curt favour among the ‘hard line’. The truth is that might have worked several years ago, but today most dont see the PC as being a major componet to Policing and Justice issues.

  • kevin barry

    Cut the Bull

    I think your heart is in the right place with regard to wanting to try and stop unnecessary violence and some parades being used as a means to create trouble in flashpoint areas, but in all honesty, your solution is using a jack hammer to crack a monkey nut.

    The restrictions you’re advocating, while maybe proving a hindrance to trouble makers, would also punish unnecessarily those who uphold the rule of law and just want to exercise there right to march. don’t think legislation should be used as a means to punish 1% of troublemakers, when in all honesty this 1% will always cause trouble while the other 99% are left being punished for some act they haven’t perpetrated.

    I am not a fan of the loyal orders and find that where they tow the line that there various organisations are meant to represent Ulster Protestant culture (and for quite a large number of there members this is undoubtedly true) unfortunately the organisations come across as incredibly anti-Catholic institutions and for a number of there members this is definitely true. This aside, they do have a right to march, and for the vast majority of non-contentious parades, the creation of a layer of bureaucracy where someone may be held liable for any trouble caused would present more problems than solutions (What if someone decided to turn up and cause trouble; would he who signed be held liable; who would decide on liability being apportioned, another body, the courts?). However, with a right comes a responsibility.

    As for the OFMDFM setting up a panel of 3 ‘independent’ members to decide on contentious parades; really? This is the same OFMDFM that engages in name calling when one of the them comes back from a holiday, or the same office that accuses the other of sifting through the other’s mail through the cover of night.

    The Parades Commission is not ideal in the long run as instead of the parties on the ground actually coming together to try and come up with a local accommodation, they are out-sourcing decision making to a quango who will keep these local conflicts in suspended animation which we all have to relive every single year.

  • Billy

    Kevin Barry

    “they do have a right to march”

    Why do you perpetuate this shite from the OO?

    No such absolute right exists. All parades/Marches in the UK are subject to regulation from local councils and/or the local police.

    BNP supporters regularly have their parades re-routed as do the Anti-Nazi league and many others.

    As you point out, 95%+ of OO parades are non-contentious and that’s fine.

    However, the OO need to face facts, there are some areas where the overwhelming majority of the population don’t want them parading (especially with their pro “Loyalist” terrorist banners and bands).

    Frankly, the historical route option just shows that in the past these routes were chosen to show the Catholics that the OO could march through their areas anytime they liked and Catholics could do nothing about it. Well those days are gone for good and if the OO don’t like it – tough.

    I’m not aware of any Republican organisations applying to march up the Shankill but I wouldn’t support that either.

    I’m afraid that, even in cases where local accomodations have been reached, the agreed rules have often been breached by “Loyalists” and the OO has taken no action.

    If and when the OO realise that:

    1. There are a few areas where they just won’t be marching again unless they alter their route.

    2. If they reach a local accomodation and then allow their members to breach it and take no action, then no such accomodation will be reached in future.

    Despite Unionist wailing the Parades Commission will stay – not even a Tory govt would risk destabilising NI by abolishing it.

    Until the “Loyal” Orders are willing to grow up and move into the modern era, they’ll get nowhere.

    They’ll be up on Drumcree Hill for the next 100 years and they’ve no-one to blame but themselves.

    Perhaps that’s why (despite what some Unionists try to claim here) their numbers are continuing to decline.

  • kevin barry


    I think you miss the point of what I am trying to say. As I noted, with any right comes a responsibility, and yes, they have the right to freedom of assembly with any restriction necessary in a democratic society, ie, they can’t march in certain areas where its presence would cause a threat to the peace. Perhaps I should have expanded this point some more previously.

    I should be grateful if you would point out where I said that this right of there’s is absolute? I agree, however, with the vast majority of the rest of your piece.

    The OO does need to face facts about what is happening on the ground, hence why I would ideally like to see a situation where the Parades Commission is eventually gone as the parties on the ground have come to a local agreement rather than one imposed from above. Of course, there needs to be a sanction if the contract between both parties is breached, but after a while, I would expect both sides to habituate and for things to normalize.

    I do not believe that the creation of further bureaucracy and rules, is the answer to all of our woes; in fact, it only puts off creating solutions that are not zero sum games for either party, rather than being adults and sitting down and talking things out.

  • Aisling

    Just wondering where you’ve gotten the statistics for acceptance etc? the NISRA shows no mention of them unless I’m looking in the wrong places. I’m debating this topic the day after tomorrow and that statistic could make my speech!

    Thank you