Every year the various loyal orders are allowed to march through nationalist communities while the local residents are hemmed into their homes for hours until these contentious parades have passed. The British security forces mount huge military operations to allow these triumphalist marches to pass through the besieged nationalist communities. Children are not allowed to play outside their own front doors, families cannot go to the shops or attend to their day to day business and traffic is brought to a halt throughout the area.
Every year the representatives of these residents attempt to foster dialogue in order to achieve a long term solution to the problems the ‘marching season’ brings. To date, these efforts have been in vain. The Parades Commission constantly bows under pressure from these loyal orders, leaving the nationalist communities exasperated and exhausted, facing long hours of incarceration in their own homes until the security forces decide to allow them to venture out.
Each and every year around two thousand five hundred loyal order parades and marches take place in the north of Ireland. The nationalist community fully accepts the right to march. The problems arise when the loyal order parades pass through nationalist communities, the marchers singing sectarian songs, shouting and gesturing sectarian abuse and insults, waving nakedly sectarian flags and banners and all too often physically attacking the nationalist residents.
Movement call on the Parades Commission to stand up to the loyal orders;
to stop rewarding them for their intransigence and to pay heed
to the clause in the Good Friday Agreement that states "The Right
to Live Free from Sectarian Harrassment".
No dialogue – no parade
International observers denounce “pervasive”
Report on 2003 marching season documents UDA leader’s participation
June 20, 2004 Contact: Sean Cahill, 917-972-4965 (U.S.)
New York City – On the eve of the 2004 Orange marching season in Northern Ireland, two U.S.-based international observer groups blasted what they described as the “pervasive” presence of loyalist paramilitaries at several contested Orange Order parades in June and July 2003.
Marching and Disorder, the report on last year’s marching season released today by the Irish Parades Emergency Committee and the Brehon Law Society, provides photographic evidence that the North Belfast commander of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) marched at the front of the July 12th, 2003 Orange parade through Ardoyne.
The report also documents the promotion of loyalist paramilitaries at other parades and the impact of intense militarization and sectarian violence on communities.
Marching and Disorder is now available at www.ipecobservers.org
Copies of the report are being provided to key members of the U.S., British and Irish governments, as well as to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Parades Commission, the Police Ombudsman, and political parties.
William John Borland* and other supporters of the UDA led off the evening march in Ardoyne, many chanting “U-F-F!”—the initials of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name for the UDA. (Videotapes and photographs are available upon request.)
British soldiers and police in riot gear escorted Borland and his supporters through the nationalist, mostly Catholic community, which had been sealed off and shut down for several hours in anticipation of the march.
These UFF supporters also sang the Sash, a song proscribed by Parades Commission guidelines for marches through nationalist/Catholic areas due to its sectarian nature.
Marching and Disorder also documents the promotion of outlawed loyalist paramilitary groups by bands and Orangemen marching in parades in Springfield Road, Short Strand, and elsewhere in Belfast.
“Last July 12th, hundreds of British soldiers and police in riot gear escorted the head of the North Belfast UDA through Ardoyne, with the help of dogs, water cannons and machine guns, past hundreds of residents who had been under military lockdown for hours,” said Sean Cahill, a spokesperson for the international observers who has traveled to the north every summer since 1996 as a human rights observer.
“This is deeply disturbing, particularly because in the days and weeks leading up to the two marches through Ardoyne on July 12th, loyalist paramilitaries made repeated death threats against Catholics and against individual residents of Ardoyne. The British security forces’ actions last July 12th certainly violated the Good Friday Agreement’s promise of freedom from sectarian harassment.”
For the eighth year in a row, Irish Parades Emergency Committee and Brehon Law Society observers will again observe contested Orange marches in Northern Ireland this summer. A report on the 2002 marching season, Parading Paramilitarism, also documents paramilitary participation in Orange marches through nationalist communities.
“Loyalist paramilitary presence was pervasive at several parades last summer in Short Strand, Ardoyne and Springfield Road,” Cahill said. “This violates Parades Commission guidelines, public order legislation, and both the spirit and letter of the Good Friday Agreement.”
“The impact of intense militarization in order to facilitate Orange Order parades has an incalculable negative effect on the residents of these communities,” Cahill said.
“Such deployments disrupt the life of the community—in Ardoyne people were unable to attend Mass, shops were closed, and movement was restricted. A 12-foot-high mobile wall erected on the back of army trucks through a large stretch of Ardoyne effectively silenced any attempted nonviolent protest by nationalist residents against the sectarian and paramilitary march through their neighborhood,” Cahill continued.
“Such massive military and police deployments reinforce the belief that an abnormally large and intimidating military and police presence is needed to protect the parade participants from their nationalist neighbors.”
Cahill concluded “The use of excessive military force stigmatizes the nationalist community. Both the unionist and nationalist communities are pushed further away from dialogue and mediation and the consensus needed if there is to be demilitarization of society as a whole.”
* Borland, who was convicted and served time in jail for his role in a UDA extortion plot, was publicly revealed to be the leader of the North Belfast UDA in September 2003. See Ciaran McGuigan, “Brigadier Bonzer Exposed,” Sunday Life, September 7, 2003. Andre Shoukri is said to have regained control of the group after his release from prison in March 2004. See Joe Oliver, “Shoukri is seeing psychics,” The People, June 6, 2004.
Report cites blind eye to loyalist marchers
By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST - The Irish Parades Emergency Committee has accused the Northern Ireland police of turning a blind eye to loyalist paramilitaries marching through Catholic neighborhoods.
The committee concludes in its report for the 2004 loyalist marching season that the police permitted known paramilitaries to march through Catholic areas.
The New York-based IPEC, in liaison with the Brehon Law Society has been monitoring parades in the North since 1997.
The two groups share the reports and views with the northern political parties, the police, governments and community groups.
Most of its members are U.S. citizens who volunteer their services, at the invitation of local residents' groups, to independently observe and record the actions of police, protesters and marchers.
One of the group's key findings is that although there has been progress and dialogue on controversial parades outside Belfast, in the city itself there has been no improvement with deteriorating relations between nationalists and the police.
"Outlawed loyalist paramilitary organizations which have killed many Catholics", including residents of the three areas where it observed parades last summer "were promoted and celebrated by bands and Orange supporters," the report stated.
In most cases, it said, the groups "publicized and extolled through the display of flags, and bannerettes, the wearing of military-style uniforms, and the chanting of slogans" were the Ulster Defense Association and Ulster Volunteer Force.
At the parade where the most serious violence of last year's marching season took place, at Ardoyne on July 12th, "an Orangeman carried a UDA bannerette" said the IPEC report.
Also in Ardoyne, at least one leader of the UDA - William Borland - marched with other Orange Order supporters "with the assistance of more than 1,000 police and soldiers in riot gear", the report stated.
"This was at least the second year in a row that this UDA leader marched through a locked-down Ardoyne. Nationalist leaders said other loyalist leaders were also among the 300-400 rowdy loyalist hangers-on escorted through the nationalist community."
This, said the IPEC report, "clearly violates conditions placed on contested parades by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission". It also says that in the Short Strand, "sectarian tunes were played in violation of clear prohibitions on such conduct."
In Ardoyne, it said, "Sectarian harassment was hurled at nationalist residents" by Orange supporters. It also claims the police allowed the march to go ahead because of "days of loyalist blockades" and "threats by Orangemen to block streets if supporters were not allowed to march with them."
Nationalists, it said, "viewed this brazen violation of the Parades Commission determination as another example of the police giving in to loyalist and Orange threats of disorder."
At the Springfield Road march in West Belfast, it stated, nationalists "were disappointed, though perhaps not surprised", when the Parades Commission reversed its initial ban on the June 26 Orange parade.
2005 Springfield Siege
In September 2005, after 'postponing' their earlier Whiterock march in June, the Orange Order/UVF re-applied to the Parades Commission to march the 125 yards past the homes of nationalist residents on the Springfield Road.
The Parades Commission stood by their original ruling that the march must exit onto the Springfield Road at the new road at the old Mackies factory site, rather than intimidate nationalist residents by using the Wokman Avenue exit.
There followed an orgy of violence perpetrated by members of the Orange Order that quickly escalated into full-scale rioting throughout Belfast.
Here, we show pictures of the lead up to the Orange Order violence that they seemed to hope, in the words of DUP leader and religious fundamentalist Ian Paisley, would "be the spark which kindles a fire there would be no putting out":
Orgy of unionist organised violence across the North
The worst rioting in years in the north of Ireland at the weekend has left civilians and more than 50 PSNI injured. Unionist rioting also took place in counties Antrim and Down.
At one point a mob of about 700 unionists in east Belfast hurled petrol bombs and opened fire on the PSNI and the British Army. Unionists rioters attacked the PSNI with automatic weapons, homemade bombs, bricks, bottles, petrol bombs, blast bombs, pipe bombs.
Unionists paramilitaries fired at least 50 live rounds at the PSNI and the British Army after a Protestant Orange Order parade.
On Sunday evening further unionists rioting continued areas across Belfast with vehicles being set alight. Also a "bomb factory" had been discovered in the Shankill road area of Belfast and seven firearms recovered.
PSNI Chief Hugh Orde said Saturday's rioters in Belfast intended to kill police and it was lucky "we have no dead police officers", he said. He added that it was "one of the most dangerous riot situations ever faced by officers in the UK".
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Martin McGuinness MP has accused unionist politicians of creating a political vacuum that is being filled by unionist paramilitary violence.
"The political vacuum created by the refusal by unionist political leaders to engage with republicans is being filled by unionist paramilitary violence. Unionist politicians and the Orange Order cannot shirk responsibility for the increased violence seen over the past few days. And I would point out that contrary to the picture being painted in the media this violence was not just directed at the PSNI and British Army. Numerous nationalist homes and properties have been attacked in many areas of the North", he said.
"It is incumbent on unionist politicians to stop the prevarication and engage with the representatives of the nationalist/republican people now in order to remove this political vacuum. Unionist politicians must use their influence in a positive manner to have all activity by unionist paramilitary organisations stopped immediately."
Hugh Orde said the Orange Order bore substantial responsibility for the rioting and "sustained and violent attack" on his officers. He said the Orange Order parade had "become illegal" and "fundamentally breached" the Parades Commission's determination on several counts.
DUP leader Ian Paisley criticised the Parades Commission saying "the Parades Commission are to blame for the mess that has been created."
British Secretary of State Peter Hain condemned the violence saying "Attempted murder cannot in any way be justified". "There can be no ambiguity or excuse for breaking the law. All those with influence in the community, including the Orange Order and unionist politicians, must condemn this violence and give their full support to the PSNI."
SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell said, "the Orange Order must stand up today and tell the truth about its involvement in spurring up tensions and encouraging scenes of devastation". The Orange Order continues to claim to be against terrorism yet they don't hesitate to associate with murderous paramilitaries when and where it suits them."
The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, condemned yesterday's violence saying that whatever grievances people might have, there was absolutely no justification for violence.
Everyone else is to blame, say Orange leaders
Unrepentant Orange Order leaders tonight continued to shrug off blame for the days and nights of violence which engulfed Belfast after a contentious march at the weekend.
Their attitude was swiftly rejected by the British Government and Sinn Féin called the denials 'infantile'.
The Orangemen blamed the PSNI, the Parades Commission, the British Government and republicans for the trouble - everyone but themselves.
British Northern Secretary Peter Hain expressed surprise that they were washing their hands of blame - and made clear it did not wash with him.
"The Orange Order organised that parade which resulted in, and sparked off, this vicious and ferocious and lethal violence," he said.
Attending the PSNI's Police Federation annual conference outside Belfast, he added: "I saw for myself the Chief Constable's video evidence which was absolutely categorical."
It showed "Orange Order members taking off their collarettes and literally picking up rocks and throwing them with ferocity at police officers on the front line."
Dawson Baillie, the Orange Order's Belfast County Grand Master, insisted he would do nothing differently if he had last weekend over again.
At a press conference on the Shankill Road he claimed: "As far as I am concerned the violence was started by the police.
"The violence I saw at the weekend from the police force was absolutely shocking."
Mr Baillie refused to condemn the violence, which involved petrol bombs, pipe bombs and blast bombs being hurled at the PSNI as well as the firing of live ammunition, but eventually said (after seeming not to understand the meaning of the word) that he did not 'condone' it.
He was asked to comment on video footage of an Orangeman clearly waving a sword above his head and threatening PSNI officers who were protecting themselves from him with their shields. Mr Bailie's pathetic response was: "He didn't have it over his head."
There has been widespread criticism that he caused the weekend's violence by calling for support for the Whiterock Orangemen after the Parades Commission ruled they could not march down a 100-yard stretch along a nationalist part of the Springfield Road.
Of that criticism, he said: "I don't accept any responsibility for calling people out on the streets to assist us. I feel entirely blameless."
Asked if he would do things differently if he had the weekend over again, he said defiantly: "Not one thing."
Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters also blamed everyone but his members.
Although he claimed he condemned the violence and was saddened by it, he hit out at the PSNI, saying the situation had been exacerbated by officers' actions.
He said: "They approached policing on the day in an aggressive and arrogant manner.
"Their complete lack of respect for the Order, its members and memorabilia would not be tolerated against any other cultural or religious group anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
"This does not excuse the violence, but it does go some way to explaining it".
He said that perhaps the most worrying thing about the weekend's events was the widespread feelings of frustration within the Protestant community.
He spoke of "the extent to which ordinary, decent and responsible men have been goaded into behaving out of character by the authorities and their insistence on appeasing and rewarding nationalists at the expense of Loyalists".
Adding: "For years we have seen nationalists achieve what they want by violence and the threat of violence.
"In these circumstances, when frustrated and with no other option, we should not be surprised that some individuals resort to violence."
He said he was deeply concerned at what he claimed was an attempt to demonise the Orange Order and make them scapegoats for what happened last weekend.
He branded the Parades Commission ruling which blocked marchers from parading past nationalist homes "the last hooray of a defunct agency that was feeling petulant because we had not engaged with them".
He also attacked Mr Hain for failing to meet Orange leaders.
They had sought a meeting in May and were still waiting, he claimed.
Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin rubbished the Orange Order's no-blame stance, saying the Orange Order and unionist leaders needed to accept responsibility for the loyalist violence.
"The attempt of unionists and the Orange Order to try to blame everyone but themselves is infantile.
"It is time for its political leaders to grow up. The first step is to take responsibility for their actions", he said.
Loyalist riots - facts and figures
The full horror of loyalist violence during three nights of rioting in the north was revealed by the PSNI last night.
During some of the worst disturbances seen in years 146 blast bombs were thrown and 115 shots were fired.
116 vehicles were hijacked to torch and block roads.
81 PSNI officers were injured during the rioting.
The PSNI themselves fired six live rounds as well as 216 plastic bullets.
The British army also fired live rounds and plastic bullets, although the number remains unknown, as the British army refuse to release details of any rounds they fire.
The largest number of shots fired at the PSNI was in west Belfast, where 96 rounds were fired, with the PSNI returning six live rounds.
The greatest number of petrol bombs thrown was 120 - in north Belfast. 57 vehicles were hijacked in that area.
The rioting spread to Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Larne, north Down and Ards. In north Down 17 vehicles were hijacked, 15 in Newtownabbey, 8 in Carrickfergus, 2 in Lisburn, 2 in Ards and 1 in Larne.
The statistics do not include trouble in rural parts of the north where violence also broke out in areas such as Ian Paisley's ward of Ballymena.
Parades Commission appointments - Appointment of Orangemen
Does the appointment of Orangemen to the Parades Commission breach the legislation? That's the question nationalist residents' groups are asking the Commissioner of Public Appointments to investigate.
According to official guidelines, laid out by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, candidates should not have "a relationship with another organisation that could lead to a conflict of interest".
It is difficult to see how last week's appointment of members of the Orange Order and known supporters of the Order's Drumcree protest can be considered anything other than representing such a conflict.
In Portadown, Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) spokesperson Breandan Mac Cionnaith accused the British Secretary of State, who is ultimately responsible for appointments to the Parades Commission, as "totally avoiding the issue around conflicting interests".
Joe Marley of Ardoyne Parades Dialogue Group said residents "do not feel that this new commission is capable of delivering unbiased or impartial determinations and lacks the balance the vision required to resolve this issue".
Amongst those appointed to the Parades Commission last week was David Burrows, a member of the Orange Order who played a prominent role in the Drumcree stand-off.
He previously accused the Parades Commission of being an "unaccountable quango". Burrows was forced to resign from his position as Grand Master after an illicit relationship with a young female secretary became public knowledge.
A second Orangeman appointed to the Parades Commission is Donald McKay, a member of the Royal Black and Orange institutions. McKay, a former UUP councillor, defected to the DUP. He has already informed the media that he intends to take part in next year's Drumcree parade.
Commenting on the appointments, a GRRC spokesperson said: "It appears that Peter Hain has succumbed to internal pressure within the NIO as well as to outward pressure from the DUP and UUP in relation to the Parades Commission."
Breandan Mac Cionnaith said the appointment of the two Orangemen was political. "In fact one of the people is not only a member of the Loyal Orange Lodge of Portadown, he is also a member of the DUP. It shows that the DUP themselves have obviously secured some influence in this decision," said Mac Cionnaith.
In contrast the apparent willingness of the NIO to pander to the DUP, the GRRC spokesperson said that no attempt had been made to include people from those communities most affected by contentious parades. "What is clear is there is no representation nor has the NIO or Secretary of State attempted to secure representation from any of the working-class nationalist communities that are directly affected by contentious marches," said Mac Cionnaith.
Anger over Hendron appointment
The appointment of Joe Hendron, a former SDLP MP, has angered many nationalists particularly those from his former constituency in West Belfast. A nationalist more by default than design, Hendron infamously secured his seat in 1992 after utilising unionist paramilitaries to campaign on his behalf.
Effectively denying nationalist West Belfast the candidate of their choice, Hendron's recourse to unionists paramilitaries involved in sectarian killings has never been forgotten or forgiven. To present Hendron as a 'nationalist' appointment ignores the expediency with which he allied himself with unionism when it suited his interests in the past.
Other appointees include Anne Monaghan, an independent member of the Belfast District Policing Partnership, Vilma Patterson a former chair of the Women in Business network and Alison Scott McKinley a development worker from Magherafelt and former member of the Magheraflet District Policing Partnership.
The newly-appointed head of the Parades Commission, Roger Poole is a trade unionist and former assistant general secretary of NUPE and Unison.
In a joint statement from the main Loyal Orders, the Orange Order, Royal Black Institution and Paisley's Independent Orange Order described the appointments as "interesting".
Orangeman wants republicans and loyalists to work together
One of the most senior figures in the Orange Order has called on former republican and loyalist paramilitaries to work together to build a lasting peace.
In an in-depth interview with the Andersonstown News, ex-Special Branch officer the Reverend Mervyn Gibson warned that unless communities are prepared to move on they would “slip back into the past”.
The 49-year-old was a member of the RUC for 18 years. In 1994, just days after the IRA ceasefire, he quit being a cop to train as a Presbyterian minister. Rev Gibson now runs the Westbourne Presbyterian Church at the Newtownards Road/Short Strand interface.
He is also one of the most senior Orangemen in Ireland, currently the organisation’s Deputy Grand Chaplain.
Two weeks ago the father-of-two was appointed to the Parading Review Body (PRB) – a group that will attempt to bring a resolution to controversial marches throughout the North. Sitting on the PRB with Rev Gibson is West Belfast republican veteran Seán ‘Spike’ Murray. The top Orangeman says he does not have a problem working with the senior republican.
“It’s a time to build peace and that means working with everyone,” he explained.“We have a choice now – we can move forward or slip back into the past, and no one wants that.
“For the sake of our kids and grandchildren we have to move forward, we have to begin somewhere. That means republican and loyalist paramilitaries working with each other to build a lasting peace.”
Rev Gibson’s appointment by Secretary of State Peter Hain to the Parades Review Body came on the recommendation of soon-to-be First Minister Ian Paisley.
He enjoys a good working relationship with the DUP leader, something that he also had with former First Minister David Trimble. It was after a recommendation from Trimble that Rev Gibson was appointed chairman of the Loyalist Commission.
“I wouldn’t have joined the Parades Review Body if I didn’t think it would make a difference,” said Rev Gibson.
“We’ve taken our lead from the top. If there was no power-sharing, no Paisley and McGuinness working together in government, there would be no Parades Review Body.
“Their new working relationship has given permission to others to get involved in similar initiatives.”
Almost all of the 18 years Rev Gibson spent in the RUC were in Special Branch.
As an officer in the highly controversial RUC department he ran informants and was in regular contact with paramilitaries.
But he is reluctant to talk about what he terms “operational matters” and defends his former colleagues against criticism of collusion, in particular revelations contained in a recent Police Ombudsman report.
After investigating the murder of Raymond McCord Jnr by the UVF, Nuala O’Loan found that informants involved in the killing were protected by their Special Branch handlers.
“There is nothing that I did or know during my time in the RUC that I am ashamed of,” said Rev Gibson.
“People with hindsight and knowledge come to different conclusions, but that doesn’t always equate to collusion.
“Mrs O’Loan’s last report didn’t prove what it claimed to prove. There was innuendo and information but no evidence. “She redefined the meaning of the word collusion. The report doesn’t stand up to the language used,” he added.
“We need a Police Ombudsman, but less political and more objective.”
Rev Gibson also frowns upon talk of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where paramilitaries and police would give full and honest accounts of Troubles-related murders.
“It’s unrealistic because the paramilitaries will not come forward,” he said. “It wouldn’t do any good because it would be down to the individual. Paramilitaries and the security forces will not take part because the truth will not come out – everything has a context which has become lost with hindsight.”
Just over a year ago Rev Gibson was booted off the Loyalist Commission. His expulsion from the group, which comprises members of the UDA and UVF, was engineered by elements on the Shankill Road unhappy at his work to bring about parade resolutions. Despite being no longer involved in the group, Rev Gibson maintains close links with loyalist paramilitaries. He welcomed last week’s UVF statement announcing an end to its armed campaign and expressed hope that the UDA will follow suit.
“I have been involved in negotiating the end of six loyalist feuds so I see last week’s statement by the UVF as a tremendous step,” he said.
“As far as decommissioning goes, the UVF said it was never on the radar, so that doesn’t bother me.
“I was never hung up on IRA decommissioning. It was a red herring because unionists, me included, don’t believe the IRA fully decommissioned or no longer have access to munitions.”
With the UVF now claiming to be moving towards a community organisation, Rev Gibson says he has no problems working with the paramilitaries he was tasked with trying to jail a decade ago.
“I can accept IRA men going into government so I can accept UVF men going into community roles,” he said.
“I am not going to apply double standards. This whole process is about bringing people in from the cold. Hopefully the UDA will be able to follow suit soon with a similar statement, announcing it too is standing down. We’re moving on and we have to bring everyone on board. No one should be left out in the cold.”
We say: An Orange shift?
As this paper has never been slow in the past to highlight hypocrisy and unreasonableness on the part of the Orange Order, it would be churlish of us not to acknowledge the refreshingly honest and forward-thinking views expressed in an interview with this paper by the Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order, Reverend Mervyn Gibson.
Rev Gibson called on former republican and loyalist paramilitaries to work together to build the peace, and he warned that unless communities were willing to move forward together, they run the risk of slipping back into the past.
Broadly speaking, that would probably be the view of most people in the North. But the words, coming as they do from a leading light in an organisation which has set its face against contact with republican activists, are certainly cause for optimism. Might it be the case that there is rustling in the undergrowth at the House of Orange, which has largely ignored the ground-breaking developments of recent months and years in favour of maintaining its not-an-inch opposition to contact with republicans? Let’s hope so, because while there are many things that could break the deal which the DUP and Sinn Féin have finally struck – republican dissidents and loyalist gangsterism, for instance – we know from hard experience that the issue of marches and marching has historically had the potential of pouring petrol on the flames at crunch times in our history.
If the Rev Gibson is signalling a willingness on the part of his organisation to accept that dialogue with republicans – be they elected representatives, community workers or members of residents’ groups – is the way forward, then a resolution to this seemingly intractable source of conflict may well be in sight.
There’s no doubt that a sizeable percentage of Orangemen are bitterly opposed to power-sharing at Stormont, just as elements within republicanism are opposed to the Sinn Féin political strategy. The question is whether the Oranger Order will allow itself to be hamstrung by the naysayers, or whether it will finally, as Rev Gibson’s words suggest, begin looking towards the future.
Parades Decision Unlawful
A controversial decision by then British direct rule secretary Peter Hain to appoint two Orangemen to the body which rules on disputed marches in the six counties was held unlawful by the British Law Lords today.
The House of Lords overturned a majority Court of Appeal judgment that the appointment of Portadown Orangemen David Burrows and Don Mackay to the Parades Commission was valid.
The dispute had been taken to the Lords by angry nationalist residents, who complained that no representation had been sought from residents' groups.
Mr Mackay has since quit the Commission after it emerged that he listed DUP MP David Simpson and SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly as referees without seeking their permission.
The residents, who initially won their case in the High Court, complained that Mr Hain had written to the main political parties, the four main churches and the loyal marching orders during the appointments process, but had not sought applications from any residents' group.
Disclosures made during the legal battle also show that the current Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, at the time NIO Security Minister, was also intimately involved in the unlawful appointments and decision making process.
In their majority decision, the appeal judges said Peter Hain was not required to achieve a balance between individual members of the body.
But Lord Bingham said today: "I feel bound to conclude that the decision to appoint Mr Burrows and Mr Mackay was one which a reasonable Secretary of State could not have made if properly directing himself in law, if seized of the relevant facts and if taking into account considerations which, in this context, he was bound to take into account."
Speaking outside the court, Breandán Mac Cionnaith, spokesperson for the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, said they had always questioned the legality of the appointments.
"When this present commission was appointed, we stated that it was far from independent, that it was essentially 'a packed jury', and that it certainly would not enjoy the confidence of the nationalist community in Portadown," he said.
"Ever since the present Parades Commission took up office in January 2006, British government ministers, along with the Commission's chair, Roger Poole, have publicly and robustly defended what have now been proven to be totally unlawful appointments."
Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition Vindicated
Today's House of Lords ruling that the British government's decision to appoint two members of the Orange Order to the Parades Commission was 'improper and unlawful' is the successful culmination of a two year legal campaign by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) in Portadown challenging the appointments made by Peter Hain when he was British direct rule secretary.
Disclosures made during the legal battle also show that the current British northern secretary, Shaun Woodward - at the time NIO security minister - was also intimately involved in the unlawful appointments and decision making process.
GRRC spokesperson Breandán Mac Cionnaith said today's ruling vindicates the stance taken by the coalition over the past two years.
Mr Mac Cionnaith said: "From the outset, the GRRC questioned the lawfulness of, and the motivation behind, the appointments of Mr Burrows and Mr Mackay to the Parades Commission.
"When this present commission was appointed, we stated that it was far from independent, that it was essentially “a packed jury”, and that it certainly would not enjoy the full confidence of nationalists.
"The government had undoubtedly set out to formulate a clear and partisan agenda which was intended to be pro-unionist, pro-Orange Order and pro-sectarian marches.
"The process through which it was to be delivered has now been proven to have been deeply flawed, unreasonable and wholly illegal.
"Ever since the present Parades Commission took up office in January 2006, British government ministers, along with the commission's chair Roger Poole publicly and robustly defended what have now been proven to be totally unlawful appointments.
"Peter Hain's failed underhand attempt to create an unlawful imbalance within the Parades Commission reinforces suspicions that elements in the British government intended to reverse some of those hard-won changes which have been achieved by local communities in the six counties over the past decade.
"It is clear that British ministers in the north of Ireland operate with a cavalier attitude towards the law and today's ruling underlines that fact."
Joe Duffy, who initiated the court case, said that during the past two years British government ministers publicly accused the GRRC of mischief making and of putting factional interests first, and that others, including Roger Poole, chose to defend the indefensible.
Mr Duffy said: "Our approach all along has been one of integrity and principle. That approach has now been vindicated by the British Law Lords, one of whom, Lord Brown, specifically states in his published ruling that the residents' position in relation to this whole appointments controversy was the correct one.
"But it appears that within the six counties such unlawful gerrymandering is deemed to be the norm. Moreover, the British government is content to spend vast amounts of taxpayers' money trying to defend their own illegal actions.
"Transparency is essential in decision-making bodies if the bridges of trust and understanding are to be built in the north. Equality in the access to justice is paramount and unimpeachable fairness and justice must not only be done - but must be seen to be done.
"The British government failed each of those tests in this case."
Mr Mac Cionnaith added: Today's ruling places a major question mark over the manner in which the commission handled this controversy and how it has conducted its own internal arrangements.
"There are still major issues to be resolved regarding this present Parades Commission, not least of which is how it restores the credibility and integrity enjoyed by the previous commission.
"A clear starting point must be the re-establishment by the commission of its impartiality and its independence from the British government rather than its willingness to collude in implementing clearly biased agendas.
"If that means further changes to the current personnel, then that is the step which must be taken in light of the House of Lords' ruling today.
"We are aware that the commission took its own legal advice to examine how conflicts of interests are dealt with. On the basis of that advice, Roger Poole and his colleagues unlawfully concluded that, provided the interest was declared and taken into account in the commission's decision making process, those who had declared a conflict of interest could fully discharge their duties as commissioners.
"That has been proven to be completely illegal.
"We believe that today's ruling now places the collective competency of the chair and other members of the commission under the spotlight."
"However, they successfully petitioned the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords in 2006. Much of today's outcome rests upon their ability, diligence and efforts and we congratulate them for that."
The Parades Commission was formally established in 1998 following the North Report which investigated the large-scale civil strife that engulfed the six counties as a result of contentious Orange marches in Portadown, Ormeau Road in Belfast and other parts of the country in the mid-nineties.
Today's ruling makes clear that commissioners who declared a conflict of interest in relation to their membership of any of the Loyal Orders could not, and indeed should not, have acted as participants in decisions or mediation in respect of any contentious Loyalist parades anywhere in the six counties.
Among opinions expressed by the Law Lords in their unanimous decision are:-
The full judgment can be accessed via http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldjudgmt/jd080130/duffy-1.htm
Concern over Parading Body Report
Residents’ Groups Issue Press Release
As the Strategic Review Body on Parading today formally launched its consultative report, two key residents’ groups - the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community in Belfast and the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition in Portadown, whose communities were at the very heart of the turmoil and conflict over contentious marches in the 1990’s, have jointly published their views and concerns.
The interim report by the Strategic Review of Parading Body recommends the transfer of powers to deal with contentious marches away from the Parades Commission to a new secretariat under the control of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
The report has been welcomed by the Orange Order.
"We welcome the fact that the recommendations include the establishment of a new legislative framework to govern not just parades but all public assemblies.
"We particularly welcome the fact that the recommendations signal the end of the discredited Parades Commission," the order said.
The two key residents’ associations state that they believe the report to be unnecessary and largely unhelpful and they are concerned that the Strategic Review Body’s recommendations will politicise, rather than de-politicise, the marching issue.
The Proposed New System
Residents' Groups Press statement
Since the 1990s, both the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition and the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community have campaigned for change in the way contentious marches are governed.
It is our view that the creation of the Strategic Review Body on Parading was not motivated by any genuine desire to improve the effectiveness of the Parades Commission or current processes for dealing with contentious parades. Instead, its genesis in 2006 was as a political concession to unionist parties opposed to any restrictions on the relatively small number of contentious loyal order marches.
We are very mindful of the injustices inflicted upon our communities as a result of parades, particularly during the 1990s.
All that our communities had sought was the re-routing of a small number of contentious marches. We had argued for the right to live in peace without the deep sense of fear, outrage and humiliation that consistently marked these sectarian parades through our neighbourhoods.
Instead, due to political expediency, unwanted sectarian marches were imposed upon our communities through the use of threats and violence by unionism and force from both the police and the British Army. The indiscriminate use of plastic bullets, brutal assaults upon residents, illegal curfews and massive restrictions on the movement of people within our communities were a harsh reality.
We welcomed the Independent Review on Parades and Marches (the North Review) established in 1996 in response to events in Portadown and the Ormeau Road. We expressed some scepticism about the need for a Parades Commission. It was our belief that Government was abdicating its responsibility to protect minority communities from fear and the threat of violence.
Since the start of this millennium, the re-routing of sectarian marches away from the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads by the Commission has meant that our communities – and the wider community – have enjoyed successive peaceful summers.
The clouds of fear, tension and violence, and the physical sieges of our two communities that accompanied those sectarian marches, have also disappeared. Residents in our neighbourhoods now enjoy family and community life in relative peace and tranquillity.
It is against this background that we believe this present Report to be unnecessary and largely unhelpful.
We are concerned that the Strategic Review Body’s recommendations will politicise, rather than de-politicise, the marching issue.
The Review Body itself has linked the marching issue to outstanding and unresolved political matters.
It links the marching issue to locally elected political institutions, including local councils – a number of which have proven track records of discrimination.
By making these linkages, the Review Body has opened a doorway for those who wish to turn the marching issue into a major political football - where political expediency will take precedence over valid human rights concerns.
There is also concern at the Review Body’s attempt to downgrade “the right to freedom from sectarian harassment”.
We do not believe that this Report has brought forward any suitable or viable alternative to the concept of an independent Parades Commission.
Instead, we see only potential for political interference and manipulation within each of the various strands of bureaucracy it proposes.
We fear that the majority of proposals will lead to a pre-1998 situation, re-ignite past tensions and create future inter-communal unrest during the “marching season”.
As for the current Parades Commission (which is the third such body), it is obvious that political manipulation lies at the core of its present difficulties. The corruption by Peter Hain and the NIO of the appointments process led to a two-year legal battle which culminated in the House of Lords earlier this year upholding the residents’ case that those appointments were indeed biased and unlawful.
Questions still remain over the integrity of this Commission’s own internal processes which for two years failed to recognise or properly handle the resultant major conflicts of interests.
Leaving those facts aside, we wish to make it clear that we fully support the concept of a Parades Commission – but it must be a Commission which is completely independent and free from political interference at all levels, commencing with the appointments process itself; one that is open and transparent in its dealings with everyone; and one which does not second its staff from government departments, including the NIO.
Obviously, this Review did not start from the same premise of seeking to enhance the Commission’s independence, to free it from political manipulation or improve its effectiveness.
Seven years ago, the Quigley Review of parades was created following a side-deal at Weston Park between the British government and unionists opposed to restrictions on loyal order marches. The report and recommendations from that Review now gather dust on some shelf within the NIO.
The report from this Strategic Review Body should be consigned to a similar fate without delay.
Meet Paddy Paradesdown and team
An independent review has recommended a new way to deal with contentious parades.
The review team chaired by the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown would give the final say to a panel appointed by the first and deputy first ministers.
Parades have been one of the most contentious issues on the Northern Ireland political agenda for many years.
They've sparked riots and protests, claims of discrimination and denial of rights, and some believe they have the potential to destabilise the Stormont Assembly.
Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader and paratrooper, and the six other members of his Strategic Review of Parading body could have been forgiven for thinking they'd been passed a poison chalice.
But, after a year of consultation and discussion, they believe they've found an antidote.
Their interim report speaks of "a unique opportunity to establish new procedures and structures, based on the principles of respect and tolerance".
Local dialogue is the cornerstone of the process. The aim is to encourage parade organisers and objectors to sit down face to face to work out their differences.
Under the proposed new system, the Office of First and Deputy First Minister will be at the heart of the process.
The ministers will be responsible for appointing panels of mediators to try to resolve disputes, adjudicators to make decisions if no agreement can be reached, and monitors to ensure that new standards of conduct or observed by those on parade and any protestors.
If implemented, the new system would spell the end for the Parades Commission, set up in 1997 to resolve disputes over contentious parades.
The new process will apply to all public assemblies of 15 people or more, but the focus will be on those held by the Orange Order.
There are almost 4,000 Orange Order parades in Northern Ireland every year and the vast majority are non-contentious, but some like Drumcree and the Ormeau Road in Belfast are highly controversial and in those cases the commission makes the final decision.
Lord Ashdown is at pains to point out that this is an interim report, what he calls "an invitation to further discussions", but it's clear that he believes his team is very close to cracking what has been a very difficult nut.
The buzz-phrase is "community buy-in" and he believes that has been achieved because of the consensus reached by the widely divergent members of his team. The key figures are seen as Mervyn Gibson and Sean "Spike" Murray.
Gibson is a former RUC officer and ex-chairman of the Loyalist Commission who has been a lifelong member of the Orange Institution and is currently a Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. Murray is a former IRA prisoner and chairman of two nationalist residents' groups.
Shortly after taking up his role last year, Lord Ashdown remarked that the key was to find agreement between these two individuals, and he appears to have succeeded.
Mervyn Gibson speaks of the need to remove the issue of parades "as an alternative battlefield to 30 years of violence", while Sean Murray says agreement is essential to avoid possible conflict that could destabilise the fledgling devolved assembly. Both men are agreed on the need for a new approach.
The report makes it clear that the review team sees the resolution of parading disputes is linked to the bigger political picture, stating that it can "best be achieved within the wider context of the transfer of policing and justice."
Initially, the omens appeared good when some of the details of the report emerged last week, with the Orange Order indicating its support for the proposals.
The order refuses to deal with the Parades Commission and has spent much of the past 10 years calling for it to be abolished.
Support for this new process would spell the end for the commission, but also commit the order to direct talks with nationalist residents groups.
But the SDLP immediately made it clear that it is far from happy, describing some of the proposals as "madness" and questioning the wisdom of giving local councils any role in the process, saying the political allegiances of councillors would result in political interference and a lack of independence.
The party isn't alone. The review team admits that it has not yet been able to reach agreement on what it calls the "legacy parades" at Drumcree and on Belfast's Ormeau Road, where violent disputes resulted in the creation of the parades commission.
These are the most contentious parades and the fact that agreement hasn't been reached on how to deal with them is a major weakness in the report.
The review team say they will have further discussions and will make recommendations about these parades in their final report, which is due to be delivered to the Secretary of State in October. But the omens for agreement on that issue appear far from good.
Nationalist residents' groups in the area have issued a joint statement criticising the report, which they describe as "unnecessary and largely unhelpful".
They say the fact that the First and Deputy First Ministers would have a key role in the process "will politicise rather than depoliticise the marching issue".
Lord Ashdown's team say they believe the new process could be in place for the marching season next year, if the political will is there. But finding agreement on the Garvaghy and Ormeau roads could prove much more difficult than in the corridors of Stormont.
Orange Order and Orangeism is part of who we are as a nation”
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has called on the Orange Order to engage in dialogue with local residents to resolve the issue of contentious sectarian marches.
The call follows DUP insistence that the resolution of the marching issue is now a pre-condition to the transfer of policing and justice powers.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Adams said: “Many citizens will be concerned at the DUP’s insistence that the issue of contentious Orange parades be resolved as a pre-condition to them agreeing to the transfer of policing and justice powers.
“It has always been Sinn Féin’s position that the issue of parading can only be resolved through dialogue between the loyal orders and local communities.
“Irish republicans accept and respect the rights of the Orange institutions to parade and promote their sense of Orangeism.
“But this has to be done on the basis of equality and mutual respect and tolerance.
“The Orange Order and Orangeism is part of who we are as a nation.
“Irish republicans want a dialogue with the Loyal institutions in order that we can understand and appreciate each other’s position.
“As a society, we cannot afford the negative and unsustainable political, financial and social costs that flow from parading disputes.
“While the overwhelming majority of Orange parades take place without rancour or dispute, there are a small number each year which give cause for concern.
“I am again asking the Orange Order to engage in dialogue with local residents to resolve these contentious parades.
“Let us together seek to resolve this issue in a common sense and respectful manner.
“Regardless of what structure is in place to mediate on contentious parades there can be no resolution or agreement without dialogue.
“Sinn Féin have no agenda other than to facilitate and help in whatever way we can to create a context and climate where local disputes can be resolved locally.
“All those in positions of leadership within our society have a responsibility to encourage this process.”
for new parades body
Proposals for a new way to deal with contentious parades in Northern Ireland have been published.
They include plans for two new bodies to replace the Government-appointed Parades Commission.
The blueprint envisages a new focus on dialogue between rival groups to avoid violence seen in the past.
Under a code of conduct, residents will have the right to live free from sectarian harassment while it will be illegal to block a lawful parade.
Marchers and protesters will be expected to take part in dialogue and a refusal to do so will be taken into account by the new body.
A review of parading formed part of the Hillsborough Agreement.
The DUP and Sinn Fein set up a six-strong group to work on the matter following the deal in January.
Their brief was to propose a new and improved framework to rule on controversial marches, including a focus on local solutions, mediation and adjudication.
The current Parades Commission will be replaced by two new organisations.
First, an office where people can apply for permission to hold a parade or a protest.
Second, an adjudication body which will decide what happens in the event of a dispute.
The body will consist of 11 people, drawn from across the community, who will split into two panels of five to consider individual parades and protests.
The new arrangements would write into law people's right to live in freedom from sectarian harassment.
But it would also make it an offence to prevent or disrupt a lawful public assembly or parades.
There is an incentive for all sides to engage in dialogue - and failure to do so can be taken into account by the adjudication body.
The new minister for Justice, David Ford, would be given the power to ban a parade which currently rests with the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward.
However, he could only do this with the backing of both the First and Deputy First Ministers.
The public are being invited to give their view on the draft parading bill and code of conduct over the next 12 weeks.
Parading is a particularly contentious issue in Northern Ireland.
Nationalist residents in mainly working-class areas like north Belfast and Portadown, County Armagh, oppose Orange Order processions in their areas because they view them as triumphalist.
Members of the loyal orders accuse residents of going out of their way to be offended and maintain it is their traditional right to demonstrate on the streets.
comment on Draft Legislation
Sinn Féin and the DUP have commented on the draft legislation on parades published today.
Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said: “Central to the legislation is a legally enforceable code of conduct for those who parade, and the bands and supporters who take part in parades, and any hangers on.
“Both the code of conduct and the draft parades bill include the right for communities and individuals to live free from sectarian harassment.
“For the first time in any legislation, the right to live free for sectarian harassment is enshrined and a legal definition is put forward.
“The loyal orders will be legally bound by the code of conduct, as will any hangers on, supporters, and their bands.
“The draft bill places an emphasis on dialogue - formal and informal - between the loyal orders and objectors to the parades and those that raise concerns, and will provide a mechanism for mediation, if required.
“Dialogue will be the norm and it will be encouraged, with failure to engage, taken into account in subsequent adjudications.
“The adjudication body will be representative of the community and the power to make decisions rest with the full body.
“We hope that the new improved framework for the issue of parades will help resolve this difficult issue
“It is now important that all communities affected by parading issues use the opportunity presented by the consultation period.”
DUP MLA Nelson McCausland welcomed the commencement of what he described as ‘a new era for parading in northern Ireland’.
He said: “This proposed Bill will change the current framework dealing with public assemblies, including parades and protests, across northern Ireland.
“It will replace the Parades
Commission with a new framework that is fair and transparent and is
based on human rights.
“The new system will not
pander to sectarian prejudice and no longer will there be preferential
treatment for protests over parades.
“There is now a period of twelve weeks for consultation and we would urge everyone, especially those with an interest in parades, to give careful consideration to the draft legislation.”
Proposals Threaten All Public Assembly
Proposed legislation being introduced by the Six County administration, ostensibly to deal with the issue of contentious sectarian marches, is to controversially include all public demonstrations and protests involving trade unions, political activists, community organisations and various campaign groups.
All such gatherings involving 50 or more persons and which take place in a public space will be required to give 37 days prior notification of their intention to hold such a gathering to the British government in the Six Counties.
The term ‘public space’ is defined in the proposed legislation as meaning “any road or footway or any other place, apart from a building, to which the public or a section of the public has access”. Such a wide-reaching definition will include the grounds of both government and council buildings, or the grounds and entrances to factories, workplaces and public service establishments, such as schools and hospitals.
The legislation will impact upon and restrict the ability of trade unions and others to mobilise demonstrations in support of workers. A case in point to illustrate this is the stance taken last year by trade unions, community groups and political parties of the left in mobilising rallies at very short notice in support of the workforce at the Visteon plant in Belfast.
Under the proposals set out in the draft legislation, entitled Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests, the state would have to be notified of such rallies 37-days in advance and the organisers would have to specify which trade unions or community groups would also be taking part. Failure to do so could result in jail terms of up to six months for the organisers and any participants.
Pickets of workplaces by trade unions which involve more than 50 workers will also find that these, too, come under the new laws.
White-line pickets, a feature widely used by many campaign groups and one that has been used almost exclusively by political activists within republican and nationalist communities in the Six Counties with great impact, to organise effective and spontaneous public demonstrations to highlight incidents which often require a speedy and immediate response at very short notice will also fall under the remit of the new legislation.
With major cuts in public expenditure already underway and even greater cuts being forecast in the aftermath of the upcoming British election, it is clear that the Six-County administration at Stormont is intent on using the proposed legislation, originally designed to deal with the problems caused by sectarian marches, to create a bureaucratic web aimed at negating community-based or trade union opposition to those cuts and to both the resulting job losses and cut-backs in essential public services which will undoubtedly follow.
The proposed legislation, which was published in draft form last Tuesday [April 20], is one of the out-workings of the negotiations between the Stormont parties as part of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, concocted on February 5 this year.
Those negotiations led to the establishment, on February 8, of a joint working group on parades comprised of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly, Michelle Gildernew and John O’Dowd together with the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, Nelson McCausland and Stephen Moutray. Sinn Féin’s Sean Murray and former RUC Special Branch man Mervyn Gibson, both of whom were previously part of the Strategic Review of Parading Body led by ex-British army officer Paddy Ashdown, acted as advisors. Ashdown admitted in a 2009 autobiography that he had also worked as a spy for British intelligence.
Donaldson, McCausland, Gibson and Moutray are all members of the Orange Order, with the first three having held senior positions within that organisation.
A report drawn up by the Parades Working Group was handed over to the first and deputy first ministers of the Stormont administration on February 23 but, to date, neither the full report or its recommendations have been published. A number of nationalist residents’ leaders have publicly described the failure to publish that report as being “counter to any sense of openness, transparency and fairness regarding this process”.
In relation to the issue of sectarian marches, it is also obvious that the proposed legislation, with tier upon tier of bureaucratic procedures, mediation processes, meetings and reviews is designed to wear down the resistance and resolve of residents’ groups in their opposition to the sectarian invasions of their communities.
The various time-consuming and morale-sapping bureaucratic tiers and procedures that are being put in place through the Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests are clearly designed to favour organisations like the Orange Order which have paid full-time officials and staff based at their headquarters in Belfast. In contrast, residents’ groups are comprised of local people who give their time freely and voluntarily outside of their other work and their community and family commitments.
Moreover, the requirements which the new Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests body will take into account when deciding on contentious parades no longer include the impact such parades will have upon the local community or the effect upon community relations.
Crucially, the draft legislation does not indicate if factors such as the purpose of the parade, the necessity of the route in serving that purpose, the demographic balance of residents in the immediate vicinity or the availability of alternative routes are to taken into account.
Little wonder then, that the DUP MLA and Orange Order member, Nelson McCausland, was able to state his belief last week that the concerns of the Orange Order had been met.
Last year, McCausland who is also the Six County minister for culture, arts and leisure, caused uproar when said he would not attend any event on a Sunday, unless it was an Orange Order parade that included a church service, but denied that his role as a minister might see him have to visit a Catholic church or other venues he might not ordinarily choose to attend.
“I have personal views regarding worship and I would not attend a service in a Roman Catholic church,” said McCausland. However, he clearly has no similar problem in parading through Catholic communities.
A long-term solution to the problem caused by sectarian parades can only be found in the implementation of a policy which includes a broad acceptance of the right of host communities not to have parades forced through against their will.
Without exception, there are alternative or other routes that these sectarian unionist marchers can take if they so desire.
Official tolerance over many decades of such sectarian parades has allowed the problem to persist. Further official tolerance will not make the problem disappear.
must not sleepwalk into new parades legislation
By Eamonn McCann
As the posh-boy premier sharpens his knife while casting an eye on the public services that so many depend on, the Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill could turn out the unkindest cut of all.
The Bill, published in draft form during the election campaign, arises from the agreement made at Hillsborough on February 5 linking the devolution of policing and justice to the establishment of a new body for resolving disputes over parades.
The connection between the devolution of policing and the regulation of parades had been asserted by the DUP - and dismissed by almost everybody else as an attempt to delay the transfer of powers. There had been no reference to any linkage in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.
The DUP's tangled line of dubious argument was that the Protestant community would not have confidence in any devolved policing arrangement unless a more reliable means of solving Garvaghy-type problems was in place.
That this was the point of the exercise seemed confirmed in the document issued at Hillsborough in which the First and deputy First Ministers undertook to appoint a six-strong working group to "bring forward agreed outcomes which they believe are capable of achieving cross community support".
The working group comprised MLAs Stephen Moutray, Nelson McCausland and Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) and Gerry Kelly, Michelle Gildernew and John O'Dowd (Sinn Fein).
They held their inaugural meeting on February 9. The draft - published on April 20 - is the fruit of their labours.
There was no indication in February that the group had been tasked to do anything other than devise a system to replace the procedures of the Parades Commission; no suggestion that it would be engaged in drafting a new, wide-ranging public order act.
But this is what's set out in the draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill (Northern Ireland).
Its provisions appear aimed at least as much at curtailing protests against job losses and cuts in public services as resolving communal disagreements over marches.
The explanatory guide accompanying the draft defines the purpose of the proposed law as "to establish a legal framework that will allow for the introduction of new procedures governing public assemblies in Northern Ireland". Not contentious marches, but "public assemblies". Clause 5 defines "public assembly" as "covering any public procession, meeting or protest, apart from funerals and gatherings which the First and deputy First Ministers specifically order to be excluded".
"Public meeting" is defined as "a meeting of 50 or more persons held in a public place to which the public or a section of the public are invited to attend".
The example chosen in the guide to illustrate the working of the new measure is instructive: "If a group wanted to protest against the closure of a local sports facility this ... would fall under the definition of a public meeting and would therefore be subject to the notification procedures for a public assembly outlined in clause 13." Closure of a local sports facility ... a far cry from Orange parades and residents' protests.
Clause 13 tells that a campaign to save the sports facility - or library, or leisure centre, or residential home - would have to give 37 days' notice of any planned protest. So notification of a rally scheduled for November 1 next would have to be submitted by September 24. Knee-jerk action to save services will be outlawed. The scope of the proposed law goes beyond parades issues. It has implications for trades unions, community organisations and campaigns.
There has been no public explanation - much less discussion - of how the DUP/SF working group established at Hillsborough came to devise not a remodelled Parades Commission, but an elaborate bureaucratic machine for managing and curtailing the right of citizens to voice protest.
Had such a measure been mooted in the days before their accession to government, half the members of the working group (perhaps a different half on different occasions) would have been instantly on the streets with the protest placards.
Back then, of course, that sort of thing would have been legal.
Consultation on the new measure ends on July 14.
Bill takes a detour from simple common sense
The Lower Ormeau Concerned Community and Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition set out their opposition to the new Parades Bill
The Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill, released for public consultation on April 20, purports to offer a solution to the problems created by contentious parades in areas such as the Garvaghy Road and lower Ormeau Road.
Far from solving the issue caused by contentious parades in Portadown, south Belfast and elsewhere however, the Bill creates a whole new range of problems.
Now out for consultation, the draft legislation will bring any and all public gatherings of 50 people or more within the scope of the law - a recipe for potential disaster, and a far cry from the panacea it alleges to offer.
The solution to the vexing and long-standing problem of contentious parades lies not in complex legislation, but in a common sense approach of using viable alternative routes, taking the small number of disputed parades (less than 3% of the total) away from sensitive locations where they have a long history of causing disturbance.
Instead of specifically dealing with the minority of marches that are problematic, the new legislation proposes to treat all parades and outdoor gatherings as if they were the same.
The solution is to focus on the real problem - a small number of contentious loyal order parades that can be resolved by obliging the organisers to take an alternative route.
The re-routing of contentious parades is neither new nor radical. The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights recognise that restrictions, including route restrictions, can be placed on parades to protect the rights of others, or to prevent disorder. Such restrictions have been upheld by the domestic courts.
Nationalist residents are not seeking to have parades banned. Rather, it is about guaranteeing the right to assembly in a proportionate and balanced way, taking into account the range of human rights violations which can occur when marches are forced upon certain communities.
When a loyal order parade, with a long history of causing sectarian trouble, seeks to pass through a nationalist area, there is a solution which reasonably respects the rights of both the marchers and the residents: the use of a viable alternative route.
If the primary purpose of the parade is to go from A to B, that purpose may equally be satisfied by a number of alternative routes.
We have seen a number of loyal parades over the years that have a shameful secondary purpose: to march through a nationalist or Catholic area for the sole purpose of sectarian triumphalism.
Any code such as the Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill code must, by its nature, be fully capable of taking account of the long years of sectarian conflict and abuse around marches and not air-brush such events from history by the introduction of some arbitrary dateline.
To ignore that history would make absolutely no sense, and be grossly unfair to those who have suffered years of sectarian abuse.
To make a decision on, say, the Drumcree parade without that historical context would be wrong, and cause irreparable damage to wider community relations.
The Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill is a flawed piece of legislation. It is the classic sledgehammer to crack a nut - a difficult nut, yes, but still a nut.
Those responsible for the bill should go back to the drawing-board to create a workable solution based on common sense and human rights.
challenges OFMDM on public assemblies bill
Amnesty International has written to Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Minister outlining concerns over the proposed new legislation regulating parades and public assembly: The Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill (Northern Ireland).
The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister have proposed legislation to extend Public Assemblies legislation designed for contentious parades to any and all gatherings of over 50 people. This proposed legislation will generally make it necessary for organisers to give 37 days notice for public gatherings of 50 people or more.
This legislation is potentially in breach of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees citizens the right to peaceful assembly. It has been met with widespread opposition and Amnesty International is calling upon OFMDFM to address a wide range of human rights issues.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said:
“The proposed legislation represents a potential blow to the rights of Northern Ireland's citizens, guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Further, the proposals could deter the exercise of freedom of assembly and could lead to the criminalisation of a large number of persons who organise or participate in social, commercial or campaigning activities. In particular, we are concerned with the potential extension of the notification period and the adjudication process.
“We challenge the OFMDFM to demonstrate how the proposals are deemed to be in the valid public interest or ‘in the interest of national security, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’, as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.”