23 October 1997 Edition

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RUC and Mowlam retain say on parades

Last Friday the controversial Parades Bill was published. Press statements indicate that it will transfer responsibility for decisions about contentious parades from the RUC to the Parades Commission. The legislation, which should be in effect for the next marching season, gives the Parades Commission statutory powers to reroute parades and imposes conditions on the parade organisers but in practice the final say will remain with the RUC and Direct Ruler Mo Mowlam.

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin voiced concern about the lack of clarity over who has the primary responsibility on the question of rerouting, but he welcomed ``the assurance that the remit of the Parades Commission will not cover sporting events.''

In the fine print of the draft it becomes obvious that the Commisson only has the power to reroute parades and that the power to ban marches still rests with Direct Ruler Mowlam. The legislation, however, allows for the RUC to dispute the Commissions' decisions directly with the Secretary of State and the RUC can do as it sees fit ``on the day''.

``Given the RUC's history in relation to parades this could in practice mean no change,'' McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin stresses that the commission is not compelled ``to take on board the views of the host community, and their right to say no to an offensive parade,'' but must take into account the ``long-standing'' nature of parades despite the changing demographics of the Six Counties.

There is also the unknown and delayed powers in relation to ``expressions of cultural identity'' which Mowlam was unable to clarify which could in effect encompass any expression of culture.

In the opinion of Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Residents Coalition, ``Ronnie Flanagan will still be able to say that, because of the threat to the nationalists of Portadown, he has to take action and [can] impose martial law.'' In effect Orange parades can still be forced through nationalist areas. And while Alistair Graham, who heads the Parades Commission, talks of the ``experience gleaned from this year's marching season as preparation for the new role as a statutory body,'' the executive decisions will still lie with the Secretary of State and the RUC.

On the day before the Bill was published 14 residents groups called on the members of the commission to resign.

The groups said that they had no confidence in the Commission and complained that it had remained silent on the ``RUC/British army invasion of Garvaghy Road and the curfew before the Drumcree march.'' MacCionnaith said: ``Confidence can only be rebuilt by them giving adequate explanations... and guarantees that the commission will not become a puppet of Ronnie Flanagan and the Northern Ireland Office.''

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