A possible solution to the parading issue in Northern Ireland?

Alex Johnson writes for us on how he thinks the parading issue could be solved in Northern Ireland

In my experience all problems have a solution. What is so often lacking in this part of the world is the understanding and guts to bring solutions into operation.

I would like to suggest solutions to two of our favourite subjects (the rest of the world must laugh their heads off when they see this) – bonfires and bands – the two B’s .

Starting with bonfires: to state the obvious, they are built on land with one or more persons doing the organising, building the fire, and setting it alight. My proposal would be that the landowner (as defined – owner, leaseholder etc) would have to give written approval to the bonfire on their land. Then the organiser of the fire, again as defined, would have to obtain the approval of the relevant local/statutory authority covering the size and contents of the bonfire, and any other health and safety and environmental aspects.

If in the event, the fire became a hazard so that the Fire and Rescue Service had to be called to the scene then the Service would be able to charge the landowner and organiser of the bonfire jointly with the total real cost of the call-out to the Service.

Turning to bands: as I understand it each Orange Lodge selects a band to play for it during Orange parades. Each band has a manager . My proposal would be that each Lodge would notify Orange HQ of the band(s), and its responsible officers, which they are employing for the parade(s). The Head of each Lodge together with the Director of the Band would be legally responsible for the behaviour of the band during a parade, and there would be a defined set of penalties if the Courts were to find that one or more offences had been committed by the band during the parade.

It would be a logical next step in regard to both bonfires and bands for those found to be responsible for offences as set out above to be charged with the cost of police services which were required in respect of proven breaches of the law. It would be for consideration over a period of time as to whether what might be called the provision of ’ordinary’ police services should be charged as well. It happens at football matches – is there any difference?

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  • Ian James Parsley

    Essentially this is far too sensible to work.

    The problem is far more complex. It has to do with an array of people who think the law should not or does not apply to them. Put another way, for any civilised society to work there is a “social contract” in place whereby people stick to the law even if they can be pretty sure they would get away with breaking it – for this to happen, both the law and the citizen have to be reasonable. (An example is speed limits – people stick fairly close to limits to enable roads to be relatively safe even where there is limited or no enforcement; but put in place a ludicrous, unreasonable limit and it will be ignored even by reasonable people.)

    Essentially, the issue arises when you come to applying the proposed fines or penalties. What happens if they refuse to pay? If the “community” or even politicians turn them into martyrs?

    Parades and bonfires are a symptom of a deeper problem whereby too few accept the Rule of Law must apply equally.

  • chrisjones2

    Yeas. And if they don’t give permission what then? And the reality is they cant give permission because they will need insurance. Who will ever give insurance for a bonfire?

    As for the bands, you have a bit more chance but what is a band. They are unincorporated bodies that can dissolve, merge, change and reform at will. There is no record or register. Its all unenforceable

  • Redstar2014

    Sadly there’s a crucial point being missed re the bands/ parades.

    Being offensive and as and when possible , marching where they aren’t wanted- is their whole reason for being, triumphalism, croppy lie down etc

    If we came to an agreement that they could march 24/7, 365 a year in areas where they were wanted- that wouldn’t be enough.

  • PeterBrown

    Rubbish – why then are such a small proportion of parades controversial. In my District our annual Twelfth parades rotate between 3 venues all of which have a chapel and two of which have maintained schools and all of which could if the route was amended be passed. None are – fallacy exploded at one fell swoop!

  • Ian James Parsley

    Of course, some of them will give permission because, you know, they know what’s good for them…

    I agree with you entirely. As I noted before, the problem is not the system or the law; it is civic and political leaders’ unwillingness to see it enforced.

  • Drumlins Rock

    The problem with these suggestions is obvious from the first three word ” in my experience…”, the author apparently has little if any experience of the issues involved. I will leave bonfires to others but as a regular parade participant, observer and occasional organizer I feel I must clarify a few things.

    At present all bands are listed on the Parades Commission application for every parade where the are expected to follow the code of conduct of the PC, in a very small number of cases restrictions have been placed by the PC on individual bands who they feel have breached this code.

    More commonly (although still a rare occasion) the misbehavior of an individual band is dealt with in the simplest way, they aren’t invited back by either the parade organizer or the lodge/perceptory/club who employed them. Although toleration of certain behaviour can vary, generally when a band gets a “bad name” it either gets its act together pretty quick or folds.

    The ABOD General Committee has been know to ban bands from there parades for a period of time, the only reason recently I can recall them doing so is a band refusing to obey the marshals’ instructions.

    As for the charging for police time for “breaches”, if you want to apply it to all illegal activity and crimes then we can discuss the issue, but don’t use it as yet another excuse to pick on a whole community.

    As for the difference in a parade and a football match, the official government website says “the football club can only be charged for policing that the club has requested” ie. the club is essentially employing the police instead of a private security firm. Football Clubs (those that require policing at matches at least) are generally Private Companies, bands & lodges are voluntary organisations operating on voluntary contributions mainly from their own members pockets, not Russian or American billionaires slush funds.
    Recently I attended a parade where the police got delayed but the parade proceeded on time with the members marshaling and controlling the traffic (and there was a lot of traffic), it is better to have the police present but not essential. The one suggestion I would make is the police or CPSP groups work together to with bands and lodges to improve marshaling skills and thereby reduce the burden on the police. BTW the policing of those who might attack or disrupt the parade should never be the the responsibility of parade organizers.
    Finally, the parades commission had about 5,000 notified parades last year, less than 50% were “loyalist/unionist” with most of the rest be civic, charity or sporting events, excluding Ardoyne & Drumcree protest there was about 2000 Loyal parades, 90% OF WHICH WERE NOT CONTENTIOUS AT ALL, only 123 had any route restrictions imposed, and you could count on one hand those where there was any trouble.
    I often parade in towns with catholic majorities, some residents watch the parade, some watch TV, usually the parade is in a commercial part with not that many residents on the route at all, I am aware of attempts to “create” opposition over the years, good neighborliness has seen sense prevail and toleration grow, I would like to see that happen in the tiny minority of places where problems still occur.
    PS. I have never heard the phrase “Croppies Lie Down” used by anyone other than Shinners and historians, I wonder is redstar an historian?

  • Thomas Girvan

    Well, he hasn’t addressed the main issue of parading, i.e. how do you get agreement about a parade passing the shops at Ardoyne.
    Gerry Kelly says local dialogue is the answer, so if we can get the local Unionists to come to a deal with GARC, then the problem is sorted.
    That should be fairly simple.
    While they are at it they could arrange for next year’s anti Internment rally to abide by the Parades Commission’s decision.
    Let’s face it they are all reasonable people whose objectives are for the best interests of the people “the North”.

  • Redstar2014

    Total nonsense. If that were the case why do they insist in marching in areas where they are not wanted??????

  • PeterBrown

    Its the whole reason for being claim I am pointing out is rubbish – of c1200 parades less than 100 are contentious and fewer again need to be restricted so by that logic the sole purpose of Republican terrorism was to murder innocent civilians and the whole purpose of loyalist terrorism was to kill Republican terrorists as the proportions are more favourable than contentious parades. I believe all 3 of these things not to be true but on your own logic you have to accept that all 3 have similar statistics….

  • kensei

    Bonfires and marches are much more pervasive than they would otherwise be because the costs of them them – direct and indirect – are not borne by those that organise them. If the costs were pushed onto the relevant parties, then a good deal of it would stop, along with a good deal of trouble. As a good little right wing soldier IJP, you know this as fact. It’s all about the money.

    For all the talk of “attacking oor kulture”, Nationalism is remarkably tolerant of coughing up the cash for these activities via their rates and taxes. Having been penned into my street for a few hours last Sunday by a Republican march through Oldpark at a really inconvenient time, I will happily vote for anyone, nationalist Unionist or Other, who can credibly claim they will put the costs of these activities on those who organise them. I don’t mind paying for the health service but paying for people to pollute the environment and damage public property is a bit much.

  • barnshee

    I return to a suggestion made earlier
    Each group- the OO. Protest Groupings- Concerned citizens against whatever lodge a cash sum or other irrevocable guarantee with the parades commission/ PSNI ?
    Say £50000-£100000.
    Where trouble ensues – those originating the trouble forfeit their “deposit” -to the opposition- Parades Comission/PSNI decision.
    Where both are deemed guilty—- Parades Commission keeps money

  • Ian James Parsley

    All good stuff… but doesn’t answer a single one of the points I made.

    (And less of the sectarianism, btw – I’m fed my with my taxes and rates being paid for this too, and so are many many other non-Nationalists!)

  • kensei

    I disagree the problem is the law. If the system is set up so that you are prosecuting people for breaches of the peace, it is easy to generate sympathy on civil rights grounds. If the system is permissive but passes an appropriate amount of the costs onto the parties that are organising these – as we do for sporting events and music events and a bunch of other cultural activities, then the debate becomes about whether the output is worth the costs, and the debate is a lot less sympathetic to martyrdom cases.

    It’s not sectarianism either. I’m sure many other parties are – but it is dealing specifically with the charge that nationalism is out to get loyalist culture. Is there an omerta on even mentioning the various groupings names now?

  • murdockp

    There is only one strategy that will work from both sides, which is basically a variant on the strategy the Romans used to beat Hannibal which is for all opposed to stay away. No TV cameras, no police, no protest, no press coverage.

    Just let them march, and at some point the philosophers question “if a tree falls in a forest…..does it make a noise” will apply.

    The level of disinterest will continue to grow

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Not untrue Ian, but essentually defeatist in sentiment (AP DNA??). “What happens if they refuse to pay? If the “community” or even politicians turn them into martyrs?” Let them! There’s only so much mileage that can be obtained from that. The “social contract” for the people we’re talking about is predicated on a set of specific privileged entitlements that have been honoured over time but are not upheld by any law. The social contract is not universal and absolute anyway. As it is understood by the polite and qualified bourgeoisie there is a similar sense of privileged entitlement where only the entitlements differ. Your analysis overlooks the phenomenon of mob mentality where there is a loss of self consciousness and a tendency to increased risk taking that a sober, drug free individual might usually eschew while acting alone. Where Alex’s argument holds most water is where the individual is held individually accountable. The mob might try to capitalise on the martyrdom but the nominated individual might have quite a bit to lose if he’s not set up as the fall guy. Alex’s proposal might not show immediate benefits but then most change in NI is met with howls of protest until another change comes along to inspire yet another tedious wave of resistance. This is inescapable for the foreseeable. I thought we all knew this. It doesn’t mean that we all should be resistant (and fearful) of change.

  • The Spelegraph

    Your bonfire solution seems sensible and workable. Possibly a necessity for liability insurance or large security deposit could also be asked for.
    The band solution is more complicated. First the main problem is where and when bands can parade with behaviour very much a minor problem. Another problem with policing band behaviour is setting the rules. We currently have the crazy situation of some tunes being banned. How on earth can you ban a tune! How could an official legally enforceable list of illegal music be compiled. How many notes would need to be changed to claim it is a different tune.
    Regarding the more pressing issue of where and when, perhaps a diary of permitted events could be created and enforced. For example, on the Twelfth the bands can parade all their traditional routes “there and back”. This could be set in stone in exchange for a major trimming down of the countless other dates.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Sensible advice for the people. A mature person knows it’s best to completely ignore someone who is trying to be offensive. Even the phone book gives advice on how to deal with malicious behaviour, i.e. don’t react! Action and reaction in the wee 6 is a snake endlessly eating its own tail but here we call it principle.

  • LordSummerisle

    Your suggestion is unworkable given that the OI is a decentralised organisation. Each District and to a lesser extent certain Private Lodges have autonmy.