A year in the life of NI Parades Commissioner

A year in the life of NI Parades Commissioner

16 November 2011

CROSSGAR man Douglas Bain has nearly completed his first year as a member of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission. In this special article Mr. Bain reflects on his period in office.



WHEN I told my friends that I was to be a Parades Commissioner most of them said I was mad to get involved in parading. After nearly a year in post I am satisfied that they were wrong.

On the whole the 2011 parading season has gone well with the Commission having to intervene in less than 4% of the nearly 4,000 parades notified to us. Although there was, unfortunately, public disorder connected with a small number of parades it was on a much smaller scale than in the past.

However, there is still much work to be done to reach an acceptable settlement in those locations where the parties have not yet reached agreement. Over the past few months, along with my colleagues on the Commission, I have been visiting a number of these locations to gather information, to hear the views of those involved and to see if there is any real prospect of a local agreement around parading This important work would have a more realistic chance of success if those members of the Loyal Orders who continue to refuse to talk to either the Commission or local residents, were to reverse that policy of non engagement. Fortunately, many members of the Orders do engage and it is significant that in many areas where they do so, parades now take place without difficulty.

Further work also needs to be done to correct the many public misunderstandings about the Commission. Perhaps the most common of these is that the Commission grants permission for parades. In fact the Commission has no power to ban a parade: while all parades must be notified to it, the Commission can impose restrictions, short of a ban, only when it is considered necessary.

Another common misconception is everyone has an absolute right to parade. Whilst it is true that there is a right to parade, which may be stronger when the parade is traditional, that right has to be carefully balanced against the often competing rights of those affected by the proposed parade. And everyone involved in parading must bear in mind that with all rights go responsibilities. This careful balancing of rights is central to the deliberations of the Commission and takes up much of our time. Our task is made more difficult in those instances where key players decline the opportunity to come into the Commission and set out their side of an argument.

In the difficult and sometimes unpredictable world of parades no one can foretell what future marching seasons might hold. However, I am looking forward to 2012 and I am hopeful that it will, through the goodwill and common sense of those involved, pass off smoothly with parades, and any protests, taking place in a dignified manner.’

• Douglas Bain was one of seven new Commissioners appointed in January 2011 for a period of three years. Prior to his appointment he was Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland from 2006 until October 2010. Before that he worked at a senior level in the public sector in Scotland and since 1988 in Northern Ireland. He is a member of the Scottish bar.