The British government has refused to produce a public report on the vast consultation process into the workings of the Parades Commission. Yet the fast-tracking of legislation aimed at facilitating sectarian parades through nationalist areas is said to be based on the findings of this review, writes CAÍTLIN DOHERTY
British snub Parades Commission review
The radical review of the Parades Commission ordered by Mo Mowlam last October has been rubbished by her successor, Peter Mandelson. This move will have widespread consequences for this year's marching season.
Phoblacht can reveal that the British government's consultation process with all the groups involved in the sectarian parades issue has been totally disregarded after the NIO affirmed it would not produce a report summing up the various positions and proposals on the working of the Parades Commission.
When the review was ordered last October, it was on the basis that its findings would be compiled in a public report. However, in a letter obtained by An Phoblacht, the NIO states that the conclusions of the review - which amount to six bullet points of a page-and-a-half press release - were made public when Peter Mandelson made a speech last week. The letter, signed by the Security Policy and Operations division, continued: ``We do not intend to produce a separate report.''
In that speech, Peter Mandelson made recommendations and announced the appointment of a seven-person commission that is clearly balanced in favour of unionists, as it contains only one nationalist, GAA man Peter Quinn.
Mandelson claims that the review found, amongst other conclusions, that ``the Commission had achieved many of its objectives in encouraging local agreement wherever possible''.
Mandelson also claims that the conclusions of the review have encouraged the British government to fast-track legislation aimed at facilitating sectarian parades in nationalist areas. By bringing forward the implementation of the Human Rights Act, the British government insists that groups can rely on their European Convention rights when challenging the Parades Commission's decisions in court.
But legal opinion is of the belief that such a move will, on the contrary, guarantee that parades will be authorised through nationalist areas. A legal source told An Phoblacht: ``The introduction of such legislation guarantees that any decision in regard to parades is ultimately taken by the courts. Given the nature of the judicial system and the ethos and political opinions of the judges, any ruling is guaranteed to go against nationalist residents.''
The news comes as the new Parades Commissioner, Tony Holland has admitted how little he knows about the history and issues relating to sectarian parades. In his first meeting with the press he said: ``All I know is how much I don't know'', before adding that he felt it would have been ``very dangerous'' to arrive with pre-conceived ideas about the marching issue. He therefore intends to spend the next few months ``learning about the marching issue before making any decisions''.
A source close to the residents groups told An Phoblacht: ``What the British government is basically doing is putting the former president of the Law Society of England and Wales at the head of a commission and flanking him with members intent on facilitating sectarian parades. Meanwhile, it rubbishes the review and brushes aside the opinions of all the concerned groups.''
Virtually ignored by the mainstream press, these recent British government decisions are a direct attack on the rights of the most isolated sections of the nationalist community to live free from sectarian harassment and have ensured that the Orange and Loyal orders could well parade when and where they decide.