Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2004-2005

11 January 2005




THE PARADES COMMISSION AND PUBLIC PROCESSIONS (NORTHERN IRELAND) ACT 1998

CHAIRMAN'S COMMENTS ON PUBLICATION OF THE REPORT

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today published the report of its inquiry into the Parades Commission and the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. Sir George Quigley was appointed by the Government in September 2002 to review the Parades Commission and the 1998 Act.

The report looks specifically at:

• The response by Government and other interested parties to the Quigley review

• The case for implementing key recommendations of the Quigley review, and

• The legislative (or other) steps necessary to implement such recommendations, if appropriate.

The Committee considered that the Parades Commission had made steady progress in improving the climate of parades, but that it must develop its procedures in important respects in order to move forward.     

The Rt Hon Michael Mates MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"Our inquiry has shown that the Commission has made steady progress in difficult circumstances. The number of contentious parades in Northern Ireland has declined, and there are positive signs of a greater willingness by parade organisations and residents groups to engage in direct dialogue to resolve disputes. We believe that the inevitable disruption involved in replacing the Commission with new organisational arrangements, as suggested by Sir George Quigley, risks undermining the prospect of further progress."

Mr Mates highlighted a number of the Committee's concerns:

"Our inquiry revealed the depth of frustration felt by parading organisations over the lack of detail provided by the Commission about objections to parades. This perceived lack of transparency has contributed to the low level of confidence which the Unionist community has in the Commission. The Commission needs to increase its efforts to improve that confidence. We recognise the vital importance of protecting the identity of those raising objections to parades. But the Commission must make the nature of objections to parades clearer and more accessible to parade organisers. It needs to include in its determinations fuller explanations and greater detail about the potential impact of a parade on community relations and on human rights and public order."

"The proposal of Sir George Quigley that responsibility for decisions on restricting parades based on public order considerations should revert to the police risks placing the police in an extremely exposed position. We believe that it is essential to making further progress in the peaceful resolution of parades disputes for the neutrality of the police to be accepted by all parties."

"Sir George Quigley's report made clear that the underlying long term issues between the two communities will be solved only when a way is found to live with difference. We agree profoundly with this objective which will be fully realisable  when local people join together to solve disputes on a voluntary basis.  We were extremely concerned, therefore, that mediation is perceived by some at present as a "box-ticking" exercise  in which parties to a parades dispute engage simply to achieve the result they want. This will not bring lasting resolutions to parade disputes. We recommend that the Commission review and develop its approach to promoting and facilitating mediation as a matter of urgency. Our report urges the Commission to strengthen this area of its work."

"The confusion which emerged during the 2004 marching season about the status of parade followers resulted in serious disorder in the Ardoyne. We recommend that the Government's review of existing legislation ensures that there is sufficient clarity about followers in advance of next year's marching season."

In conclusion Mr Mates said:

"Sir George Quigley published his report in 2002 but the government's response has yet to issue. This has been an unduly long delay, particularly given the importance and sensitivity of this subject. We urge the government to publish its response to the Quigley report as a matter of priority."