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Parades and Marches - Independent Review of Parades and Marches in Northern Ireland

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The following draft (v2) provides some brief information on the Independent Review on Parades and Marches in Northern Ireland. The Review Body was formally launched on 28 August 1996; its report was delivered on the 29 January 1997, and in October 1997 the Secretary of State announced the publication of a Government Bill implementing the recommendations of the Report.


On 15 July 1996 Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced in the House of Commons, his intention to set up an independent body to review the controversial issue of parades and marches in Northern Ireland. The main objective of this body was to examine the current arrangements for the handling of parades and marches and to make recommendations for their future handling. It came about as a direct result of the events in Drumcree the previous week and the subsequent disorder throughout Northern Ireland.

The terms of reference for the Review Body were announced on 24 July 1996 and submissions were then invited from any interested parties, organisations or individuals regarding their proposals for the future handling of parades. The closing date for submissions was 15 October 1996, and over 300 submissions and letters were received. Most interest will be focused on those from the political parties, the parading organisations and residents groups.

The Review Body was made up of three people; Dr. Peter North, Father Oliver Crilly and the Reverend Dr John Dunlop. It was chaired by Dr Peter North, who is currently Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He is also a Queen's Counsel and has several legal publications. His two colleagues are both from Northern Ireland. Father Oliver Crilly is a native of Derry, but is currently Parish Priest in Strabane, County Tyrone. He has a close association with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and in 1989-1990 was involved with the Commission and the Irish Council of Churches on a joint project which researched and published a report on prisons in Northern Ireland. He is also a prominent ecumenical figure and has given lectures both here and in the USA on this subject. The Reverend Dr John Dunlop is originally from Newry, although he has spent a considerable part of his ministry in Jamaica, Scotland and the USA. He was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and he has also written, and given lectures, on various aspects of religion and conflict, and cross-community relations.

The Report of the Review Body was scheduled for the end of January 1997, and many commentators considered it essential that this report be delivered on time and its proposals implemented as soon as possible if further problems arising from Drumcree were to be avoided.

The Report of the Independent Review of Parades and Marches - The North Report

As promised, the Report of the Independent Review of Parades and Marches, was delivered on 29 January 1997. The report is a lengthy one, containing some 250 pages, although an executive summary 1 was also published and made freely available.

As part of its research, the Review Team commissioned a major survey of public attitudes towards parades and marches, attended several parades in Northern Ireland and reviewed video evidence of several others, researched background literature on the main parading organisations and held a total of 93 meetings with over 270 individuals, political parties and organisations throughout Northern Ireland.

The team received over 300 submissions from interested parties, individuals and organisations. The actual content of the various submissions has not been made available in this report however, although the submissions of the two Nationalist parties, the SDLP and Sinn Fein have been made publicly available on the world wide web, as has the Alliance Party's submission. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) did not contribute a submission to the Review Team at all, and although the other main Unionist parties did contribute, their submissions have not yet been made publicly available. The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has not yet made its submission available, although it did issue a press release detailing its initial and unfavourable response to the Report.

The majority of those groups and individuals who did contribute their views to the Review Team were in agreement that there is a need for some kind of change to the current situation regarding parades and marches in Northern Ireland, and that this change should take into consideration conflicting rights, ie. those of marchers and residents/communities. Another common thread running through many of the submissions was the fact that it was unfair for the police to make and enforce decisions regarding contentious marches, and the parties involved in disputes should be encouraged to reach local accommodation. Thus, the Review Team recommended that any new arrangements should both reinforce the rule of law and help in the search for accommodation of all concerned in Northern Ireland. They should also help achieve greater consistency in decision making.

But by far the most important outcome of the Report of the Review Team is its recommendation in favour of the establishment of an independent body who will review and monitor parade disputes, i.e. an independent Parades Commission. The role of this Commission is summarised by the Review Team as follows;

  • "Education, i.e. working for greater understanding at local level
  • Promoting and facilitating mediation and the search for local accommodation in respect of contentious parades
  • If mediation fails, considering what conditions might be imposed in respect of individual parades where such conditions are merited under the statutory criteria, and after consultation issuing determinations
  • Keeping under review and amending the Code of conduct that we also propose
  • Arranging for contentious parades and protests to be monitored".
The Team recommends that this Commission should be made up of five people; a chairman, and four other members, all of whom shall be appointed by the Secretary of State, for renewable terms of three years. It is essential that these individuals will have the ability to work together, and to inspire confidence among members of the public at large, and ultimately gain widespread acceptance and support.
In addition, the Review Team further recommended that the new Parades Commission undertake to draw up, and make available, three key documents which will help clarify the situation regarding the Commission itself and parades. These documents are to be as follows;
  • A set of guidelines, which will set out the main factors which the Commission will take into account when considering whether or not a parade should be made subject to conditions.
  • Secondly, a set of procedures which are to be followed by the police, the Commission and all organisers of parades, open-air public meetings and protests.
  • Finally, a code of conduct which should govern the behaviour of participants and protesters alike at the aforementioned events.

It will not be necessary for the Commission to assess all of the 3,000 or so parades which take place annually, since only a very small number of them are contentious. The Review Team recommends three conditions which determine whether parades should be considered by the Commission.

    (a) if they have been referred by the police
    (b) if the Commission itself feels it is necessary
    (c) as a result of public representations.
In cases where local agreement has not been reached regarding a particular parade, it is the responsibility of the Commission to step in and determine whether or not conditions should be imposed. However, in such circumstances where the Chief Constable is not in agreement with the decision of the Commission, he can advise the Secretary of State to reconsider the decision. The Secretary of State has the authority ultimately to over-rule the decisions made by the Commission. In addition to this, the Secretary of State also retains the right (as laid out in Article 5 of the 1987 Order) to ban all parades, marches and open-air public meetings for a period of up to three months. If however, the Commission's decision is challenged by protesters, or anyone associated with the parade, then the police still retain the power to intervene on public order grounds. With regard to the police, it was recommended that they should keep more detailed information on parades, and also that they should have greater powers conferred on them, to enable them to take action to prevent alcohol being taken to, or consumed at parades or public meetings.

The Review Body also recommended that the period of notice required for a parade be increased from 7 days to 21 days, thus providing the Commission more time to make a well formed decision. The Commission could also consider publishing notices of those parades which may deserve wider local publicity.

On the 30 January 1997, the day the Report was first made available, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a speech in the House of Commons, endorsing the Report, and giving it his full support. He emphasised the neeed to have the Commission in place as soon as possible, so that it could take measures immediately to prevent a repetition of the events of summer 1996.

The Public Processions etc (Northern Ireland) Act 1998

On 17 October 1997, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, announced the publication of a Government Bill, the Public Processions etc (N.I) Bill, {External Link} designed to implement the recommendations of the North Report.

On 16 February 1998, the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 became law. This Act recognises the importance of individuals rights, both to march and to protest against marches, and stresses the need for accommodation and tolerance at a local level. However, in situations where local agreement cannot be reached, the Act now transfers responsibility from the RUC to the Parades Commission, to take decisions concerning the imposition of conditions and the re-routing of contentious parades. The police will however liaise with the Parades Commission, and will still retain the power to take necessary steps on the day to preserve public order if need be. A Guide to the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act {External Link} has been made available by the Northern Ireland Office, outlining the main implications of this Act.

Membership of the Parades Commission was announced on 24 February 1998. The Commission is made up of seven members. Mr. Alastair Graham was re-appointed as Chairman (originally appointed Chairman when the Commission was set up in March 1997), and Frank Guckian and David Hewitt were also re-appointed members. The following new members were appointed; Glenn Barr, Tommy Cheevers, Rose-Anne McCormick and Aiden Canavan.

In March 1998, the Parades Commission produced the following three statutory documents which clarify how the Commission actually operates, factors which are taken into account when making decisions on a parade, and a code of conduct for anyone involved in organising or participating in a parade. (Draft versions of these documents were first made available in October 1997.)

  • A set of Procedural Ruleson how the Parades Commission operates

  • A set of Guidelinesexplaining why certain decisions are taken

  • A Code of Conductfor all those taking part in or involved in organising parades.

1. The Executive Summary no longer appears to be available at a government web site. However, the text is still available at the Irish News web site [] and a PDF copy of this web page can be found at the following link:
Independent Review of Parades and Marches. (1997). Independent Review of Parades and Marches: Executive Summary, (29 January 1997), [PDF; 112KB]. Belfast: Stationery Office.


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