Parading Season

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 10th June 2014.

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Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP 3:00 pm, 10th June 2014

7. asked the Minister of Justice to outline the discussions he will have with the newly appointed Chief Constable in relation to working with local communities to ensure a peaceful and inclusive parading season. (AQO 6322/11-15)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

First, I publicly congratulate George Hamilton on his appointment as Chief Constable, as I have already done in person.  I look forward to working with him in my role as Justice Minister.  I have had regular meetings with Matt Baggott on a range of issues, including parading.  Naturally, I hope that these will continue when Mr Hamilton formally takes up his post at the end of the month.

As for the parading season, I encourage all to play their part in finding a solution to bring about a peaceful conclusion to the issue.  The reality is that neither the police nor I can solve the issues around parading.  Resolution can only come through local dialogue in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect.  I am thankful that the weekend parades passed off without incident and hope that this will set the tone for the coming weeks.

Photo of Brenda Hale Brenda Hale DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer.  Can he outline what discussions the Chief Constable intends to have with local community groups and what his engagement has been with those communities in the lead-up to the parading season?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I am afraid that I cannot say what the Chief Constable plans to do, since that is an operational matter for him, but I assume that some of the discussions that have recently been led by ACC Will Kerr about a variety of issues in Belfast that impinge to some extent on parading will continue.  I am aware that there has been some local engagement in the north and east of the city in particular.  Really, the issues as to exactly how the police will operate are issues for the Chief Constable, whether current or future.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  Does the Minister agree that the money being used to police the illegal protest camp at Twaddell is money wasted, and furthermore it is money that is lost to other policing priorities?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I agree, and I made exactly that point at the last Question Time, when I highlighted the fact that the cost of policing the Twaddell Avenue protest has now exceeded £9 million.  The reality is that that money, which could have been used to address policing priorities in other areas, is now lost.  It could have been used on a variety of ongoing community policing projects that I suspect every MLA could identify in their constituency.  However, it has, sadly, been expended for no good purpose whatsoever.  It really is time that those who are involved in that particular camp recognised the reality of the law, recognised where the Parades Commission's lawful determinations have led them, accepted that point and gave up their protest.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

The question uses the phrase "inclusive parading season."  Does that definition of inclusivity mean that the parades should be open to all, regardless of race, religion, community background or sexual orientation?  Would the Member agree that that would be a step forward?

Will the Minister also outline to the Assembly what steps he has taken, if any, to press the British Secretary of State to introduce legislation, which has already been addressed as having been weak by the Secretary of State herself?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

On the first point that Mrs Kelly made, I have to suggest that she ask the questioner, not me, what she meant about an inclusive parading season.  I am not necessarily sure that many of those who organise parades would wish to have others who parade on different days, in different places and perhaps wearing different items all involved. 

The Member raises a serious issue on legislation, but, as far as I am concerned, the best solution to dealing with parading problems in legislation is when we get agreement among the five parties of the Executive and ensure that we can carry legislation forward in this Assembly and not rely on the Secretary of State doing it at Westminster.  I trust that what we will see over the next few weeks will ensure that we do not have to make that request of the Secretary of State.