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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK


Marching with the Parades Commission

The Commission rules over marches in Northern Ireland

For years Northern Ireland's summer marching season has led to tension in some areas of the province where the Protestant and Catholic communities live side by side.

The Search for Peace
Some processions and parades spark serious disorder and violence capturing news headlines round the world.

But most of these public demonstrations take place peacefully.

A number of organisations hold marches each year to celebrate key historic dates.

These groups include the Protestant Apprentice Boys and Orange Lodges as well as Catholic groups such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

One year on

Such marches take place throughout the province. As a result, the British Government made the Parades Commission - rather than the police - responsible for deciding whether conditions should be imposed on parades.

The commission was set up in March 1997 and received its powers on 1 April 1998.

It comprises chairman Alistair Graham and six members appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Alistair Graham was appointed when the commission was first established as a non-statutory body.

[ image: Alistair Graham, Chairman of the Parades Commission]
Alistair Graham, Chairman of the Parades Commission
He is chief executive of the Leeds Training and Enterprise Council and has experience as a trade union leader.

Mr Graham's initial two-year appointment has been extended for a further year to February 2000.

Community members

All those who serve with him are representatives from the community in Northern Ireland.

They are:

  • RoseAnne McCormick - a practising barrister
  • David Hewitt - a solicitor
  • Barbara Erwin - a senior manager in the higher education sector
  • Billy Martin - a farmer
  • Frank Guckian - a businessman
  • Aidan Canavan - a solicitor.

    The Commission has been hit by resignations. Businessman Glen Barr, of Londonderry, and Tommy Cheevers, a member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, have denied they left due to disagreements.

    Two other members, Berna McIvor, from Derry, and the Rev Roy Magee - the Presbyterian minister who helped broker the loyalist ceasefire - also resigned, again for personal reasons.

    The commission sees its role as to promote greater public understanding of issues relating to public processions and to encourage and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes.

    It can rule on whether parades take place and which route they follow.

    Only the Secretary of State can overturn a ruling by the commission but its decisions can and have been challenged in the High Court.

    Tiny number of rulings

    Since 1 July 1998, plans for 4,500 parades have been submitted to the commission.

    Just over 200 of these parades were considered in detail by the commission. Approximately 120 had conditions imposed and 55 of these parades related to Portadown.

    The timetable for a commission ruling is as follows:

  • A form giving details of the parade is submitted by the organisers to the local police station 28 days before the parade is due to take place

  • The form is forwarded to the commission

  • If a ruling is made by the commission, it is generally made five working days before the parade date.

    If there is a protest against the parade, the protesters must submit a form to the police 14 days before the parade is due.

    According to the commission most parades are not considered contentious and do not have any conditions imposed.

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