Call for tribunal to make marching route decisions

 

DECISIONS on contentious parades and marches should be taken by an independent tribunal, according to a report published yesterday by the Police Authority for Northern Ireland (PANI).

Both PANI and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) have now recommended, in submissions to the North Review of Parades and Marches, that a tribunal should be set up.

The PANI report recommends that parade organisers should pay Ia fee on application and would have to give at least 28 days notice. The tribunal could also set conditions on routes, the number of marches and the use of flags and emblems. In exceptional conditions it could also ban parades.

PANI said that where there was any dispute over a proposed parade, the tribunal would be able to refer organisers and local residents to a professional mediation service.

The chairman of the Police Authority, Mr Pat Armstrong, said that a tribunal would offer "a sensible and equitable way" of resolving the issues over contentious marches, and would remove from the police the "invidious responsibility" for taking decisions about parades and having to enforce those decisions.

He said the tribunal must have people who were drawn from and I could empathise with both traditions "and who command confidence from the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland".

Four unionist members of the Police Authority dissented from the body's recommendations. One of them, Mr Reg Empey, said that no advance fee should be payable. The required notice of intention to parade should continue to be seven days, and the Secretary of State should continue to be able to place conditions on parades.

Mr Empey said: "We are keen to see parties in dispute undergoing a process of mediation and would recommend funding for this and agree that there can be no absolute right to march regardless of the impact on those affected by a parade. But nor should local residents be able to veto a parade.

"Better protection needs to be afforded to those who have increasingly been impeded or prevented from exercising their legitimate right to parade by people who have achieved their aims by the threat of or actual use of force. Parades should be categorised so that proper recognition is given to traditional marches."

In a statement commenting on the PANI recommendations, a Sinn Fein councillor, Mr Alex Maskey, said they were an attempt to shift the legislative responsibility for dealing with parades away from the British government and the RUC and on to an unaccountable body.

The North committee, which is carrying out an independent review of the parades issue, is due to publish its report in January.