Northern Ireland

Who are the Parades Commission?

riot scene
Image caption The Parades Commission believes that discussions between marchers and residents could help avoid clashes

The origins of the Parades Commission can be traced back to July 1996, when the Drumcree dispute brought Northern Ireland to a halt.

Sixteen years ago marches were seen as a public order problem, with the main responsibility lying with the police to deal with.

The then secretary of state, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said there should be an independent review.

Following the publication of the North Report, the Parades Commission was born.

In 1997, the new Secretary of State, Labour's Mo Mowlam, allowed Orangemen down the Garvaghy Road.

After that, there was a general consensus that there was a need for an independent decision-maker.

The Parades Commission is a 'quasi-judicial non-departmental body'.

This means its determinations are legally binding and it is not associated with any government department.

The Parades Commission is responsible for deciding whether restrictions should be placed on contentious marches.

The commission makes its determinations after considering submissions from both sides.

The power to ban a parade outright lies with the secretary of state, although the Parades Commission (as well as the chief constable of the PSNI) will usually be consulted.

There are around 4,000 parades of all types every year.

Only a small number are contentious and the commission encourages dialogue between marchers and residents.

The Parades Commission regards dialogue as very important.

Its website states: "The commission takes into account the extent to which there has been any meaningful dialogue or engagement between the parties and their respective willingness to listen to the concerns of each other and to address them where it is within their power to do so.

"The commission regards parade organisers who are prepared to engage in dialogue with local communities as more responsible than those who are not."

Since the inception of the Parades Commission, the Orange Order has refused to recognise its authority or engage with it.

On its website, the order describes the commission as "an unelected quango accountable to no-one".

In 2002 a review came up with the idea of having two separate bodies - one to deal with human rights issues, the other to facilitate negotiations between marchers and residents.

However, the assembly was suspended at this time, not to be reconvened until 8 May 2007.

This meant that parades featured prominently in the negotiations between Sinn Fein and the DUP which led to the St Andrews Agreement in 2006.

The former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, was then asked to come up with a solution to the marching issue.

He and his team concluded that local dialogue was the key.


They suggested that where there was no agreement, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister should appoint a mediator.

However, at this time Northern Ireland's political parties were arguing about the transfer of policing and justice powers.

Sinn Fein accused the DUP of making the dissolution of the Parades Commission a precondition to this.

At Hillsborough in 2010 there was a new deal between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

They agreed that there should be a "Public Assemblies, Parades & Protests Body" which would be overseen by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

However, the Orange Order rejected this proposal.

Last year, this idea was put on hold and the secretary of state appointed new members to the Parades Commission.

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