Parades: A question of morals and incentives….

Much has been written about events around parading over the past number of weeks, in the wake of the incident at St. Patrick’s church, the Black Saturday and the recent rioting and serious public disorder on the streets of north Belfast.

Disputes about the line between civil disobedience as a form of public protest and flagrant law breaking have formed an integral part of this discussion, as question marks arise over the powers and regulatory functions of the Parades Commission.

Brian Feeney, in today’s Irish News interprets the failure to pursue prosecutions as fatally undermining the integrity of the Parades Commission:

“Loyalists have also learned from Black Saturday that the bigger your parade the more you can get away with- an extremely dangerous lesson.”

Alex Kane takes a different view, whilst criticising unionists for engaging in whingeing rather than prosecuting their case against the PC more thoughtfully, he notes the underlying politics behind creating incentives to amplify parade objections:

“There is very clear evidence that the Parades Commission has been willing to ‘recognise’ and pay heed to the views of groups which appear to have an agenda far beyond the ‘concerns’ of the residents they claim to represent….”

Yet, he also notes the responsibility of the loyal orders and unionist leaders as arising from the fundamental problems with their current approach:

“Putting, it more bluntly, they can hardly complain about others breaking the law when they refuse to condemn those who ignore determinations of the Parades Commission”.

Missing in all of this debate is a concrete discussion of the relationship between moral hazard, i.e. the incentives created by awarding bad behaviour and the seductiveness of slipping into a spiral of warped moral relatvism, i.e. ‘they get away with everything, so we want to get away with it too’.

This is a dangerous descent which must be checked and strategically. The loyal orders and unionist parties addressed only the critique in their open letter, not the solution.

One of the main problems, aside from the “quality control” issue regarding the strategic intentions of protestors, is the lack of a clearly defined pyramid of sanctions, matching wrongdoing of both protestors and parade participants, with the severity of the sanction taken.

John Braithwaite and Ian Ayres designed “responsive regulation”, an ethos that regulatory sanctions get tougher the more regulations are flouted, ensuring that the development of a working relationship between the regulator and regulated takes precedence, one which minimises conflict on the basis of a relationship with clear expectations, transparent rules and guidelines.

This is consistent with the statutory duties of the PC to develop greater understanding around public processions and to facilitate mediation, ensuring the ‘nuclear option’ only comes into play when bad faith can be traced at points in the pyramid.

The YCV band would have been investigated and any sanctions confined to that specific band, with any subsequent misbehaviour by them or others then moving up the chain to punish parade organisers, for example.

Likewise, those engaging in violence and attempted murder at Ardoyne would not achieve the removal of a a single drum beat on Derry Day morning by creating “local community tension”. 

A regulatory form which removes the regulator from accusations of escalation is required, reflecting the importance of how a regulator’s response to behaviour shapes the incentives of those who interact with it.

There is no panacea on parading disputes, but moving the debate in this direction would at least avoid the criticism that the Commission simply responds to those making the most ‘noise’ or worse, to appease violence such as that seen at Ardoyne and being aped by loyalists in Belfast this week.

The lesson from the Dungiven parade stop is that currently, the volume of complaint appears to be given more weight than the intrinsic wrongs of the acts themselves. We need dialogue on how to make the PC operate more consistently, coherently and impartially.

The lesson for unionists appears to be that structure and incentives matter. They have a point with their critique of the PC, but they could more profitably focus on helping to shape the future operation of the Commission and its failure to develop a coherent regulatory philosophy.

Focusing on the body itself distracts from the importance of the operational principles for regulating parades and the case to be made for responsible exercise of freedoms. Exercising clear moral leadership on these fronts would expose the excuses of those resorting to violence to have their voice heard as just that, excuses. Anything else remains open to the challenge of whistling in the wind.

  • lamhdearg2

    was not aimed at you Bangordub, other will no doubt comment on you thread.
    sorry if i dont respond to other comments, i have only a little time left (tonight) and hopping wants more of it,

    Hopping The Border (profile)
    9 September 2012 at 11:24 pm
    And perhaps you would address the rest of my 10:47.

  • lamhdearg2

    less than a hour and a half for 100 comments (on this thread) must be a new record, or a sign of little reading/much chatter.

  • They have Joe
    Casement, Windsor and Ravenhill

  • lamhdearg2

    bangor, the kilcoolley lot would use baseball bats, check out the Groomsport inn for big GAA games, you may even meet me there, just dont mention the war.

  • lamhdearg2
    No problem

  • lamhdearg2

    of to me pit gents, goodnight.

  • Ah, the Groomsport Inn. Was there when it was built. Had a few good meals there. We don’t have carveries here, except maybe some posh golfclubs. Miss meals like that!

  • lamhdearg2
    You’d never figure me out, particularly with my Dublin accent, lol

  • Joe,
    As an interested party in the catering biz, Why no carveries?

  • Bangordub,

    Wish I knew. There may be some in Toronto, but where I live, all restaurants have the same menu, more or less. And none of them are exciting. Can get a good steak in the chain restaurants and pub grub. It’s not the same.

  • I sniff a biz opportunity. Are you on?

  • PeterBrown

    ANW to rephrase you…

    An organisation that was happy to rob Northern Ireland of around forty years over the civil rights thinks it should be applauded for doing the right thing? Get real

    Sauce for the goose – I think you may have attributed 4 deaths to Drumcree , I’ll raise you 2996


    If the GAA wasn’t a nationalist political organisation masquerading as a sporting one maybe Kilcooley could play Kilkenny but at the moment they couldn;t even join never mind compete – and do’;t hold your breath about the Casement rugby thing, they won’t even play the PSNI yet!

  • Definitely a biz opportunity. Alas not for me – too happy retired.
    lamhdearg may be interested; he’s been asking me about Canada and how to get in!
    Don’t try Toronto; eaters are very fickle and hugely successful new restaurants fail after a year when their attention is drawn to the latest “In” place.
    Medium sized cities, say 250,000, would be best. If you can get franchisees, you’ll be a multi-millionaire in no time.

  • Joe, Maybe you’d consult? thats what I do!
    Interesting points though. Def going to look into it, perhaps lamhdearg would be my wing Man?

  • Peter,
    As one of the commenters here who I have a great deal of respect for, can you please explain this?
    “maybe Kilcooley could play Kilkenny but at the moment they couldn;t even join never mind compete – and do’;t hold your breath about the Casement rugby thing, they won’t even play the PSNI yet!”
    I will personally arrange a game if anyone in Kilcooley is up for it. That is a cast iron , nailed on guarantee.

  • Peter, I should add, I have made a phone call and got that assurance

  • Bangordub,

    I’d give you free advice, willingly, but I really know nothing about the restaurant business. I have an interesting story in that area though, and I’ll share that with you on your blog tomorrow.

  • BluesJazz

    Why do Ballykinler GAA not play the Army next door (100 yards away on excellent pitches)? 2 Rifles have offered them the opportunity. But they wont go on to the MoD base (even though most of their relatives work on the camp).
    The pitches on the Army camp are superb. The England football team trained there. But the GAA just treat the British Army base as Castle Dracula….’I don’t see any castle’ Hammer film style.
    Why not start with Holywood GAA playing at Palace Barracks?

  • BluesJazz
    I cannot speak on behalf of the GAA. I’m not a member.
    But I will ask. As for st Pauls in Holywood, I do know that they have excellent relations with the local Rugby club.
    Beyond that it is not for me to say other than the appalling coatrailing of a tattered flag on a lampost outside their clubhouse. Not to mention Micks comment about the “Saturday Night treatment” My thoughts are in my blog currently with Mick for moderation

  • PeterBrown


    You are referring to the good cops (probably not the most appropriate analogy under the circumstances) in the GAA and ignoring the bad cops – it seems to have si,ilar issues with its wings to the Orders. I didn’t hear the whole Radio Ulster documentary yesterday (ironically I was at a aservice in St Malachys in the Markets!) but the point was made in an excerpt I heard that soem teams have played the PSNI (and been abused as a result) while others the PSNI doesn’t even have the temerity to ask….

  • Police south of the border say that they got a lot of photographic evidence from that Real IRA leader funeral and will be organizing a “round-up” soon. They say they are particularly keen to get the ones who fired a volley of shots at the funeral.

  • Peter,
    I appreciate your point. Like all organisations, there is always a local angle.
    I believe weapons have been recovered and arrests made