Dear Dr Haass, First…

This is the first part of a trilogy of posts based on a submission to The Panel of Parties, more generally named ‘The Haass Talks’. The blog post has the added advantage of being able to link documents and expand on a point here or there by way of detailed explanation that wasn’t possible with a hasty and brief submission written almost upon the submission deadline. Was the submission made with an expectation that it would have any influence? No. It was made because there are things that needed said.


First, Parades & Protest.

On parades, the key factor in early progress in Londonderry was an acceptance that the ‘parade’ was not at issue. It is important to remember that direct dialogue with Apprentice Boys opened first on the Ormeau Road, only later in Londonderry. The Parades Commission under the chairmanship of Alistair Graham gave positive derterminations in both Londonderry and Belfast because of genuine meaningful dialogue by Apprentice Boys. Londonderry had particular circumstances and dynamics where over time the ‘residents’ group became a factor rather than principal player in addressing parades in the city: a space was created to allow the civil rights influence on civic life in Derry to come to the fore. The Determination in relation to Belfast in August 1999 clearly stated clearly the abject failure of republicans to reciprocate the positive and constructive engagement by the Apprentice Boys:

“… the LOCC has not taken up the opportunity to explore new means of understanding Apprentice Boys Culture and tradition in a more positive manner.”

 “…the LOCC does not appear to have responded to the Apprentice Boys requests to identify specific concerns about the Apprentice Boys parade.”

 “…the offer to facilitate the Apprentice Boys crossing the bridge was genuine and sincere, it [the Parades Commission] is of the opinion that it was inadequate in the circumstances.”

 “…a notification for a protest parade lasting from 5.30am until 7.00pm and involving 5,000 participants … is likely to cause major disruption to the community.”

When parades were permitted along the Ormeau Road, the republican response was confrontational. The ensuing fracas, of course, was due to the RUC and Parades Commission. While republicans and nationalists are quick to demand ‘rights’ their attitudes in respect of Parades and Protest show little evidence of civic responsibility.

If Dr Haass and Ms O’Sullivan are seriously interested in looking at  they will have taken time to have a background discussion with Alistair Graham, Chairman of the first Commission, and his Commissioners. There was for a few years a real chance of both rights and responsibilities being placed foremost, and a clear possibility that violence would not win through.

Starting with Alistair Graham’s period as Chairman of the Parades Commission, there have been 7 or 8 reviews of the Parades Commission – lost count.  The Ashdown review only reached interim report stage – it failed to stand up to rigorous examination when challenged by those who had experience of dialogue with republicans on the matter of parades. The solution emerging from Hillsborough was always likely to fail because no Loyal Order wishes to see Parades the subject to political horse-trading at Stormont: bad enough the political gaming around the current arrangements.

On the Ormeau Road the LOCC demanded talks to be widened to include the community. Apprentice Boys in North Belfast, to ensure wider buy-in, were instrumental in creating the North & West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum. Then republicans decided it is only the Orange Order to which they will speak, not the wider Community of which the Orange Order is an active part. Goalposts constantly changed. More specifically, republicans were not exactly honest in engaging in dialogue. In 2003, individuals across Northern Ireland were visited by the PSNI to inform them their names were on an IRA hit list. A visit by the PSNI to your home, to tell you that the IRA has you on a list, is  deeply disturbing and alarming for any individual, and the immediate family. A target because you have tried to do right by your culture and community, and to openly and honestly engage with another community?  A visit by the PSNI in the run up to Christmas placed a bit of a dampener on the season of goodwill. Even so, dialogue continued even though it bore no fruit.

Is the issue one of Parades, really? Looking at the 25th IMC Report 2010 (para 2.9) along with the Independent Reviewer’s Third Report 2010 (Part 7:272) it is perfectly clear that there is an internecine war between Sinn Fein and other Republican Groups where the police were the primary targets – as was evident on the Ormeau Road earlier, suggests that this was a Public Order issue and not one of Parades. Again, violence has won in the subsequent years, culminating with the events of 2013. For the past ten or so years, the Parades Commission has been consistently naïve, delusional, or directed (the reader can choose) in its determinations, which can only be interpreted as believing in some way that restrictions on Parades will reduce such Republican in-fighting to the benefit of public order or wider safety – incidentally, not criteria for it to consider within its remit. If the Commission has been used to remove Parades to remove conflict between republicans and police, it has done a disservice to the Rule of Law and to the wider community relations to which it purports concern.

Read a PC Determination. Under natural law there should be clear steps identified in moving forward towards accommodation. That cannot only be for the Parade organizer to strive towards, otherwise it would be an inequitable and onerous law, and ultimately a ‘No’ Parades Commission as it has proved on the Ormeau Road and elsewhere. That is a key difference between Determinations written by the Parades Commission of Alistair Graham, and every Commission since. From any Determination, it should be obvious to anyone the issues at hand that must be addressed if progress to be made: a clear explanation of the gap that exists between where circumstances are today and where they may be in the future.

Dialogue is not a panacea:  100′s of pages of minutes from the Ormeau, and almost ten years (2004-date) of talks at Ardoyne is testament to that. Republicans refuse to respect another’s culture and demand a no parades solution. Time and time again the Parades Commission has been willing to deliver that ‘no parades’ solution, in the face of the threat of republican led violence or as a consequence of republican orchestrated violence. It does so through Determinations which in construct are arbitrary, and at worst contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of natural justice.

It is easy to believe that the Parades Commission – the legislation and the Code of Conduct – is fundamentally flawed. This is not the case. The Parades Commission was established as a buffer between the RUC making operational decisions and the NIO, specifically the Secretary of State, engaging politically. But, as the Commission under the Chairmanship of Alistair Graham proved, significant progress can be made when natural justice and the Rule of Law is honoured.

The Parades Commission has been gamed by political parties, the police, and the representatives of both the Irish and British Governments.  It has become a ‘Public Order’ Commission. Political interference, engineering, and dealing has sustained the open sore and denied progress – particularly as this has mostly resulted in effective banning of parades as a means of preventing republican/nationalist rioting.

By all means change the name of the body addressing parades, and generate some superficial construct that allows people to say it is ‘different’ to its predecessor. Little or no progress on parades is possible without a shift in the political landscape, respect for a ‘dissenting’ culture, and an end of Government social-political engineering by proxy (an end to NIO play being replaced by Stormont play offers little promise).



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