Having joined the Orange Institution in 1964 and served on the Parades Commission 2011-2013, the Rev. Brian Kennaway offers his analysis of the parading conflict. A number of groups need to step up to the mark.
By Rev Brian Kennaway
The flag protests which followed the removal of the Union Flag on Belfast City Hall in December 2012, created huge difficulties for the police but these were difficulties already experienced by the PSNI. The difficulty was, simply put, an operational decision whether or not to stop an illegal parade or let it proceed, gather evidence, and pursue those in breach of the law afterwards.
Exactly the same operational decision pertains when there is a breach in the determination of the Parades Commission. If, for example, a band is prohibited from walking, the police have the choice to either physically remove the Band from the parade or gather evidence for future prosecution.
The weekly protests, which appeared to take the form of a parade, from East Belfast to the City Hall were not notified to the Parades Commission, and were therefore illegal. The PSNI suggested that it was the responsibility of the Parades Commission to make a determination, when it was obvious to many that the Commission could only act on the basis of the Notification Form. It appeared to many that police intervention was being constrained by very senior officers.
The wider community clearly expected to see consequences for breaches of the law, but it was not until the end of February 2013 that Jamie Bryson and William Frazer were arrested for their involvement, and the protests at the City Hall were reduced to 150 who were ‘bussed-in’.
This failure of the police was recognised by Mr Justice Treacey when he noted: “police facilitated illegal and sometimes violent parades”, and “It is evident that ACC Kerr was labouring under a material misapprehension as to the proper scope of police powers and the legal context in which they were operating.” Although the Chief Constable appealed and won, Sir Declan Morgan said management of unnotified processions was not dealt with by the Parades Commission, but by police using public order powers.
The same principles which apply to illegal parades also apply to the determinations of the Parades Commission. In the light of this judgement, will the police uphold the Parades Commission determinations by either enforcing them on the day or vigorously pursuing the organisers afterwards? In spite of a multitude of breaches of the determinations, no organisers of parades were before the courts until recently, when five members of the Back Institution where found guilty and fined £150 each.
The relationship between the PSNI and the Parades Commission must be one of transparent honesty as different parading scenarios are examined.
The real test will come in the same area of East Belfast when the return Twelfth parade of Belfast No. 6 District consistently stops in Middlepath Street in breach of the Parades Commission determination.
The police should not fear the backlash of a relatively few extremists, but should be confident in the support of the vast majority of the public who are sickened by this annual chaos, and who are looking for robust and swift action against lawbreakers.