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Text: Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan ... Page Design: John Hughes

Parade and Protest frontispiece

Parade and Protest: a Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland

by Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan
Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1996
ISBN 1 85923 048 2
Paperback 158pp £10.00

Out of Print

This material is copyright of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and the author(s) and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

A PDF version of this report is available: [PDF FILE 150kb]

Parade and Protest
A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland

by Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan

Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster

Preface - Marching through 1996


Section One - Parades, An Overview

Section Two - Loyalist Parading Organisations
2.1 The Orange Institution
2.2 The Royal Black Institution
2.3 The Apprentice Boys of Derry
2.4 The Bands
2.5 Other Parading Bodies

Section Three - Varieties of Parades
3.1 Main Commemorative Parades
3.2 Local Parades
3.3 Feeder Parades
3.4 Church Parades
3.5 Arch, Banner and Hall Parades
3.6 Social Parades
3.7 Occasional Parades
3.8 Competitive Band Parades
3.9 Commemorative Band Parades

Section Four - An Average Parading Year
4.1 Chronology of the Main Parades
4.2 Local Variations
4.3 Band Parading Practices

Section Five - Overview of Parades, 1985-95
5.1 Ten Year Overview
5.2 Growth in Parade Numbers
5.3 Republican Parades
5.4 Summary


Section Six - Build up to the Parades Dispute

6.1 Background to the Ormeau Dispute
6.2 Easter, the Marching Season Begins
6.3 VE Day and other Belfast Parades
6.4 Disputes in Castlederg
6.5 Summary
6.6 Possible Ways Forward

Section Seven - The Orange Marches
7.1 From Belfast to Bellaghy and Back
7.2 The Siege of Drumcree
7.3 Agreement on the Ormeau?
7.4 Arson and Vandalism
7.5 Summary

Section Eight - Lurgan and Derry
8.1 Sinn Féin in Lurgan
8.2 Walking Derry's Walls
8.3 Protests Elsewhere on the August Twelfth
8.4 Summary

Section Nine - The Black Parades
9.1 Black on the Ormeau
9.2 Provincial Protests
9.3 The Season Draws to a Close
9.4 Summary

Section Ten - Overview of the Disputed Parades
10.1 Typology of the Disputed Parades
10.2 Compulsory and Voluntary Re-routing
10.3 Locating the Disputes


Section Eleven - Attitudes and Perceptions to Parades
11.1 The Importance of Parades and why so many?
11.2 Why are Loyalist Parades Opposed?
11.3 Support for Loyalist Parades in Disputed Areas
11.4 The Police and Policing
11.5 The Media
11.6 Conclusions

Section Twelve - Resolutions?
12.1 Negotiation and Mediation
12.2 Guidelines for Parades
12.3 A Parading Commission
12.4 Use of the Law
12.5 Responsible Parading
12.6 A Parading Tribunal
12.7 Parade 'Planning' Permission
12.8 Conclusions


Section Thirteen - The Disputed Areas

Section Fourteen - Review of Main Issues



It is clear that the practice of marching and parading in Northern Ireland is a way of confirming and reinforcing self-esteem; a continuing public manifestation of the insecurities and uncertainties of its two communities. In recent years these marches have become a sort of proxy for the violence and battles of the very recent past, and the danger that we all fear is that they will also act as a prelude to a new period of communal strife.

It is surprising, however, how little has been written about them, given their central and entrenched place in the annual life of the region. It is therefore with particular pleasure that the Centre for the Study of Conflict now publishes this original and most illuminating analysis and discussion of parades in Northern Ireland. The two authors have studied the phenomenon at first hand as they are assiduous attenders at parades, and have discussed their meaning and significance with all interested and all involved parties. They have produced - perhaps for the first time - a clear analysis of how many parades take place, where and when they take place, and the range of organisations involved in organising them. They have tried to understand how these organisations liaise with each other, and how the whole annual programme is managed, administered and formed by tradition.

Finally they have made a clear and provoking analysis of the possible approaches to resolving the dangers and difficulties which parades sometimes present, with special reference to the conflict between the right to parade and the right to live without provocation.

Seamus Dunn
May 1996

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This study was written between January and March 1996 as the new marching season drew near. Interviews and conversations with parade organisers, bandsmen, residents groups, the police and those involved in promoting mediation or cross community dialogue, indicated that little, or no, progress had been made since the autumn of 1995. There appeared to have been little contact between any of the opposing parties since the previous summer, and in most cases there seemed to be little in the way of either hope or expectation that dialogue would move the debate forward. There was no public talk of compromise, if anything positions had hardened. Individuals and groups seemed to be digging in for another summer of 'angry voices and marching feet'.

On Easter Monday 1996 there was a fourteen hour stand-off at the Ormeau Bridge, after the local Apprentice Boys club had been banned from parading along the lower Ormeau Road. The attacks on the police by a small section of the crowd protesting the ban were at least as violent as at any similar confrontation last year. The responses were largely predictable. The media expressed outrage. The parade organisers disclaimed responsibility for what happened. Politicians wrung their hands. Some blamed the 'hangers-on', others appealed for calm, for dialogue, for compromise. The story remained prominent for a few days and then quietly disappeared.

The problem of contested parades will not go away simply by ignoring it. The riot at the Ormeau Bridge did not mark the beginning of this year's marching season. The first contested parade was held on 3 March in Lurgan. Nationalists wanted to hold a rally in the town centre on a Sunday afternoon. Loyalists protested and the RUC restricted the parade to one end of the town. The march and rally passed off peacefully but a massive police presence was maintained. In response to the police ban, nationalists have protested at two band parades in Lurgan which both passed through the Wakehurst estate. This was once a loyalist area but is now largely nationalist. To their credit the bandsmen did reach a compromise with the police. They restricted their parade through the estate to three local bands and they also provided more comprehensive stewarding through the town centre than at many similar events. However, the Nationalist Right to March group still question why they continue to be excluded from the town centre on a Sunday afternoon while loyalist parades are allowed through nationalist areas. And why loyalist parades are permitted to occupy the town centre two weekends in a row.

Apart from the ongoing dispute in Lurgan, there have also been clashes following a band parade at Crossgar on 19 April; another stand-off on the Ormeau Road after the Orange parade to the Orange Widows service in the Ulster Hall, on 28 April, was re-routed; and a controversial Apprentice Boys church parade in the nationalist town of Dunloy in County Antrim on 19 May.

Not all has been negative, however. Compromises were made by bandsmen in Lurgan. Following the disturbances at Crossgar, it was reported in the press that local bandsmen met with the police to ensure similar events did not occur in the future. The band parade in Castlederg (27 April), which ended in violence last year, passed off peacefully this year. Sinn Féin voluntarily re-routed their Hunger Strike Commemoration parade (5 May) away from both the Suffolk estate and Donegall Pass. The Ballynafeigh District centenary parade (8 May) passed off quietly and with a minimum of policing.

Nevertheless, there are still many parades that will provoke objections and protests in the forthcoming months. Some of these will involve a return to the disputes of last year, Bellaghy, Derry, Portadown, Dunloy, and Roslea have all made the news already. Other protests will be made at parades that occur on a non-annual basis.

The variable nature of the disputes suggest that the issue will only be resolved through a mixture of local compromises and some recognition of wider principles about rights to parade and rights not to suffer parades. Nevertheless, there has been little in the way of sustained discussion about the way to move the issue forward. A range of individuals have suggested that an independent tribunal may have some value. Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames, the RUC Chief Constable Sir Hugh Annesley, the Alliance Party, Mary Harney, leader of the Progressive Democrats, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community group and the SDLP have all expressed some form of interest in the proposal since Marjorie Mowlam, the Labour Party Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, first mentioned the issue this year. However, as the study indicates, an independent body was suggested by Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff in May last year. It was also suggested by the then Chief Constable of the RUC, Jack Hermon, in 1986. In ten years things have not moved very far. The idea of an independent tribunal has received no support from Unionist politicians, but they have offered little in the way of alternatives.

At the time of writing, in early May, the idea of a tribunal has not progressed much beyond the realm of a sound bite. There has been little in the way of serious discussion about what it might involve, how it might be introduced and what sort of problems need to be overcome. Besides the tribunal, the only recurring idea is for parade organisers to be more responsible for the totality of events and individuals involved in the parades they organise. Again there has not been any elaboration as to what this might entail in practice.

This document has been produced with three aims. First to provide some of the background to the organisational structure of the parade organisers, why they organise parades and when. Second to review the events of last year, to suggest some of the complexities and interconnections of those events and to review the attempts that were made to resolve the issue. Finally to review some of the attitudes to parades and the ideas that have been expressed to us about possible ways forward. It is not a blueprint for resolving the issue of the right to parade, but it does offer a range of possibilities for debate.

Neil Jarman, Dominic Bryan.
May 1996

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It was hoped that the summer of 1995 would be a period in which the energies of the people of Northern Ireland would be concentrated on the search for peace; instead, it was punctuated by a series of disputes concerning 'the rights to march'. These disputes seemed to come down to a simple question. What rights do organisations have to conduct a parade or demonstration in areas where a significant number of the population does not welcome them? This study aims to analyse the background to the parading disputes, examine the events of 1995, consider the attitudes of some of those directly involved in the disputes, and examine some of the proposals which have been made to resolve or improve the situation.

Parading is an established feature of life in Northern Ireland. According to the RUC Chief Constable's Annual Report in 1995, there were 3500 parades, the vast majority of which, 2574, were described as 'loyalist' and 285 were described as 'nationalist; 617 were categorised as 'other', and 24 as 'illegal'. Of the 3500, only 22 were re-routed or had other conditions placed upon them. Nevertheless, although the number of disputed parades is small the effect of those disputes upon community relations has been significant. The history of the north of Ireland over the last two hundred years is littered with incidents of civil disturbances connected to parades (see for instance Bardon 1992, and Wright 1987 & 1996). The intercommunal disturbances in 1969, that marked the start of the current version of what is known as 'the Troubles', were often sparked off by parades or demonstrations (Purdie 1990). Since then parades and demonstrations running each year from Easter right through to September, 'the marching season', annually raise tensions and require a massive amount of policing. In 1985 and 1986 parade disputes in Portadown, County Armagh, caused six major riots which not only added to the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic communities in the town but significantly soured the relationship between the RUC and the Protestant community. Since 1985 the number of parades in Northern Ireland has shown an increase of over 32% with loyalist parades increasing by 34% and republican parades by 16%. Further, whilst there are only a few incidents where significant confrontations take place, parades can be an annoyance to members of both the Catholic and Protestant communities and with the number of parades increasing the atmosphere in which the events take place may worsen.

We have divided this study into four major sections. Part one takes an overview of the parades. In particular we survey the history of the parades, and suggest why there are so many loyalist parades in comparison with nationalist and republican parades. The loyalist parading organisations are analysed, and from this we have created a typology and a chronology of parades. Local variations in parades and the importance of locality in the parading calendar are examined. We also trace the development of bands and band parades, focusing on their relationship with the Orange and other loyal Institutions. Finally, in the first part we look at the figures relating to the number of parades, attempting to explain why there has been a steady increase in overall numbers.

In Part Two we examine the parading disputes of 1995. Drawing predominantly from press reports, but also from interviews and our own presence on many of the occasions, we will discuss both the differences, and the links connecting, different disputes and the ways they were policed and mediated. Then we will explain who was in dispute and where most of the disputes took place.

Part Three concentrates upon the attitudes and perceptions that interested parties have, in respect to parade disputes, and examines the ways that opposed positions are understood and misunderstood. It then looks at the various suggestions made to try and resolve the disputes and improve the environment in which public political expression takes place. It sets out various issues: the role of mediators; some suggested guidelines for parades; the use and problems with laws governing parades; the ways in which organisers can be held responsible for parades; and the possibilities of introducing a parading commission or tribunal to arbitrate in disputes We have not made recommendations, but have attempted to explicate a range of possibilities, and to analyse and explain the merits and problems of the various suggestions that have been made.

Finally, Part Four of the report looks briefly at the particular areas in which significant disputes took place in 1995 and summarises the overall findings.

We have drawn from a variety of sources: first, we have used the figures that are available on parades; second, we have made a detailed examination of press reports related to parades; third, we have tried to talk to as many of the interested and involved parties as possible in the limited time that was available to us - we hope that the views of all of those to whom we spoke are reflected at some point in the report, even if they have not been attributed by name; fourth, and finally, we have tried to draw upon our own experiences attending and watching parades over a number of years, as well as utilising some of the research that has been conducted into different public events around the world.

The authors of this study are under no illusions as to the difficulties in trying to solve particular disputes or improve the climate for political expression in general. The disputes over parades are a manifestation of the wider political divisions and any easing of the tensions over 'the right to march' relies to a great extent upon other political developments. Nevertheless, it is important that the area of public political expression is examined as part of the attempt to create a society within which diverse communities can be at ease.

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SECTION 13: The Disputed Areas

BELFAST, Ormeau Road:

The protest is organised by the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC) which was formed by residents of the area from the Ormeau Bridge to Cooke Street on the eastern side of the Ormeau Road and those in the McClure Street area. The LOCC object to the numerous loyalist parades along the Ormeau Road which the say are often intimidating and they regard as an offensive display of triumphalism. They argues that (a) several of the parades only walk along the lower Ormeau to meet a bus in the city centre and the men could board the bus at the Annadale Embankment instead and (b) alternative return routes have already been adopted on some parades and these could be used regularly. In a recent press release the LOCC suggested that as a general principal all parades should seek permission from the residents of the areas on their route, rather than assuming that tradition gives them an automatic right to parade.

As a secondary issue, the LOCC criticised the scale of policing that is imposed for major parades. Residents feel that they are subject to a curfew at such times. On the two occasions when parades were forced through in 1995 they claim the problems were exacerbated by the intense police presence, the blocking off of all side roads and commercial premises and restrictions on personal movement.

Officials of the loyal orders argue that the Ormeau Road is the main thoroughfare from Ballynafeigh into the city centre and it is the most direct route. They also note that parades have been using this route for nearly a century. They argue that the parades are not meant to be offensive, that the majority of parades involve members going to church, that constraints have been imposed on the bands and that those individuals who behaved badly in 1992 have all been disciplined. They further note that the parades are held either early in the morning or on a Sunday afternoon, that all are small and that none of them takes more than fifteen minutes to pass from the Ormeau Bridge to Donegall Pass.

Loyalists in the Donegall Pass area formed their own group ACORD (A Community Response to Despotism), to protest at republican parades that cross the bottom of the Pass and to support the right of traditional protestant cultural parades' to use the lower Ormeau Road. Two parades were re-routed and ACORD also blocked the Ormeau Road and disrupted traffic on a number of occasions in protest at the stopping of Orange parades. ACORD point out that the lower Ormeau has been defined as a nationalist area by LOCC. They point out that many of the Orangemen based in Ballynafeigh once lived in the lower Ormeau area, which in reality still includes a substantial loyalist community in the Donegall Pass area, whose feelings are largely ignored in the debate. They also note that no opposition to the parades has been expressed by residents in the Holy Land or University Street areas and these people have been excluded from the debate as they are not regarded as a part of either community. In reality then they say that the lower Ormeau area - from the Ormeau Bridge to the Pass and on both sides of the road - is a much more diverse community than LOCC acknowledge. Another loyalist group, ORDER (Ormeau Residents Demand Equal Rights), is based in the Ballynafeigh area and is campaigning specifically for loyal order parades to be allowed down the Ormeau Road.

Members of the loyal orders also claim that the residents group is not representative and speaks for only a small number of those living in the area, this is illustrated by the large number of outsiders who have helped to swell their protests. The LOCC have responded by stating that they canvassed opinion extensively in the area and have held public meetings to put over their arguments. They also note that the Orangemen represent no-one but themselves and that many of those on the Orange parades do not come from Ballynafeigh.

BELFAST, Springfield Road:

Nationalist residents on the Springfield Road object to a mini-Twelfth parade that crosses the peace line at Ainsworth Avenue to walk to the Whiterock Orange Hall. Nationalists say that many people were killed in the area during the Troubles, that there has often been trouble in the past at this parade and that changes to the route had been enforced on more than one occasion. They object to the idea that the Orange Order could demand to walk through nationalist areas and to the scale of the policing that was necessary to secure the route.

Orangemen responded by stating that it only takes a few minutes to parade along the Springfield Road, that there are few houses in the area in question, while further up the road the houses are mixed, and it is the most direct way of walking to the Orange Hall. Supporters of the paramilitary groups have said that the parade should be allowed to continue and they would ensure that no unruly elements from the Shankill area would be allowed to get near to the nationalist area.

BELFAST, Suffolk:

Loyalist residents raised objections to two republican parades that pass the top of Black's Road on the way from Twinbrook to the Falls Road. Republicans stated that the parades had always passed peacefully and there had never been any protests from the residents of the Suffolk estate in previous years. The first parade was blocked by the police, the second was voluntarily re-routed.


has a population of 1,041, and is estimated by residents to be 80% nationalist. A residents group - Bellaghy Concerned Residents - was formed in Spring 1995 to campaign against loyalist parades in the village and the extensive policing that accompanies them. In particular the group object to the mini-Twelfth parade in early July which draws 30 or more bands to Bellaghy and dominates the entire village for the evening. The residents complained that they feel intimidated during the parade and that despite the scale of the policing nothing is done to stop excessive drinking and urinating in public. They also objected to the loyalists parading into nationalist estates on the morning of the Twelfth and the Last Saturday parades. The group acknowledge that a number of the Orangemen live in the village but also argue that many of them do not. They feel that the band parade in particular is intrusive by attracting hundreds of loyalists from a wide area into Bellaghy, while no consideration is given to the feelings of the majority of the residents. The group said that they gathered a petition opposing the parades which was signed by a large percentage of the villagers and presented it to the local RUC, but it was ignored.


has a population of 2,579, which is evenly divided between the two communities. Loyalists objected to republican groups parading into the centre of Castlederg, which they say was the most bombed town in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The first republican parade was stopped in the Ferguson Crescent area, the second one was permitted to enter the Diamond for a rally. The week after the first republican parade there was trouble at a loyalist band parade. This parade had followed the same route for 19 years without causing problems. Last year trouble began when a tricolour was removed from a lamppost at Ferguson Crescent. There was also trouble in late August when rioting broke out several hours after the Last Saturday Black parade had been held in the town. It has been suggested that although the parade had been adequately policed, too few officers remained to control late night drinkers.

Republicans point out that there are numerous loyalist parades in the town throughout the marching season, including many late at night. They say that they are not trying to stop these parades but simply want the right to parade in the centre of their own town if they so desire. It was suggested that having achieved their aim of holding a parade and rally in the centre of the town, the nationalists had made their point. It did not necessarily mean that they would apply for similar parades in the future.

Loyalists were angered when the republican parade was allowed into the town centre because of the past history of IRA violence and they say that it left a lot of ill-feeling. They say that the band parade followed a well established route to an outlying estate with a large Protestant population. Band members claim that their parade was attacked by bystanders who were hanging around a pub and it was in response to the loyalist protests at the republican parade.


The parent clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry have traditionally paraded around the walls of the city on the morning of the Relief of Derry parade on August 12. Between 1970 and 1995 the walls were closed and no parades were allowed, although the Apprentice Boys formerly requested permission to walk the traditional route each year. In 1995 the circuit of the walls was reopened and the police gave permission for the Apprentice Boys to parade.

Local people formed the Bogside Residents Group to oppose the resumption of the parade of the complete circuit of the walls. They have no objections to the Apprentice Boys parading in the city or on parts of the walls that do not overlook the nationalist areas but they should not parade along the section of the walls that overlook the Bogside. They state that before the Troubles, coins and verbal abuse were regularly hurled from the walls into the Bogside during the parade. Last August they offered to discuss their objections to the parade with the Apprentice Boys but the Boys refused to meet them. On the morning of the parade there was an attempt to resolve the protest when the RUC presented some compromise proposals but these were unacceptable to the protesters. They also criticised the police handling of the protest.

The Apprentice Boys argue that the parade has been a central part of their tradition for more than 200 years. They say that the parade takes place at 9.30 on a Saturday morning when few people are about, that the parade can barely be seen from the Bogside area and that the nearest residents are a hundred yards away. Furthermore the parade begins outside the headquarters of the Apprentice Boys, it takes less than half an hour to complete the entire circuit and only a few minutes to pass by the contentious area. Above all they claim it is a dignified procession to church.

They also noted that they offered a number of concessions to the police some of which they imposed on themselves: they would reduce the number of bands, no music would be played over the disputed section of the walls, only members of the Parent Clubs would walk the walls and no 'hangers-on' would be allowed onto the walls. They also offered to allow the protesters to remain on the walls while they walked passed. They acknowledged that there was some trouble as the parade passed through the Diamond later in the day but claimed it had been exaggerated by the media and most of the damage was caused by republicans rioting against the police. Officers of the Apprentice Boys felt the parade passed successfully and they were pleased with the dignity and discipline of their members; they say that concessions they offered showed that they had been willing to compromise but the nationalists had not been interested.


has a population of 10,113 and a nationalist majority. A local band, the Red Hand Defenders, want to hold their annual parade through the predominately Protestant and commercial Church Street and Bridge Street areas of the town. The parade was permitted in 1982 but it ended in violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Since then the parade has been banned from the centre of town. The band cancelled the parade for four years from 1990 in the hope that this would be seen as a gesture of compromise but it did not have any effect. They also offered to consider alternative routes but the RUC will not allow them to parade the town. In September 1995 the parade was marred by visiting bands and their supporters attacking the police. The Red Hand Defenders are not optimistic that they will be able to parade in their own town in the near future but they will keep trying. Band members say that nationalist groups parade through the town and that Orange Order are allowed through the town on the Twelfth and therefore they too should be permitted to parade.


Republicans want the right to march into the centre of Lurgan, a town of 21,905 people, evenly divided between the two communities. Two parades were re-routed in 1995 and two unofficial protests were broken up by police. A third parade was stopped in March 1996. Loyalist protesters claim that republicans have never held traditional marches in the town centre and they further justified their opposition by pointing out that the town centre had only just been rebuilt following a large IRA bomb in 1992.

Republicans point to the numerous loyalist parades through the town centre. They say that many of these pass near to a nationalist estate and these parades frequently disrupt their access to the town. In contrast they are never allowed near the town centre. Parades organised by the Hibernians and Foresters and the Easter Commemoration parade are all allowed to pass behind the church from Edward Street to North Street but no nationalist parades are allowed into the main commercial area. The Nationalist Right to March Group state that they are not protesting against loyalist parades in the town, but simply demanding the same rights. They say all their parades are held on a Sunday afternoon when the town is deserted and would therefore not cause any disruption; instead loyalists are going out of their way to be offended and the massive police presence is an unnecessary waste of money.


has a population of 21,299 of which about 70% are Protestant. The majority of Catholics live in the Obins Street and Garvaghy Road areas. Until 1985 three loyalist parades passed through the nearby Obins Street area, but following protests by residents these were re-routed by the police to enter the town by the Garvaghy Road. The Garvaghy Road Residents Group was formed in Spring 1995 to campaign to have Orange parades re-routed away from the area.

Residents object to any loyalist parades along the road and say the Orangemen should respect their wishes and use an alternative route away from nationalist areas. They claim that there is no need for the parade to go down the Garvaghy Road after the Drumcree church service and instead it should return they way it came, which avoids the nationalist areas. While they agree that in an ideal world everyone should be able to walk where they wish, they say that nationalists already feel second class citizens in their own town. They point out that while there are frequent Orange parades in the centre of Portadown throughout the marching season, nationalist parades are never allowed outside nationalist areas.

The Portadown Orangemen say that they have paraded to and from Drumcree Church since 1809, and Obins Street is the traditional route for country lodges to enter town on the morning of the Twelfth. They say that when their parades began there were no nationalist estates only fields, and even today the houses are well set back from the road and few properties face onto the road itself. They claim that the Residents Group is not representative of the people who live in the area, they have not been elected in any way and are not interested in compromise. The Orangemen insist that they do not intend to cause offence, that the main parade along the route is a church parade at which only hymns or non-controversial tunes are played and that the parade would take only 15 minutes to pass. They ask that the residents respect their traditions.


Besides the organised protests at parades in the above mentioned towns there were also minor problems at a number of other locations. In particular those at the Short Strand in Belfast and at Dunloy, Pomeroy, Roslea and Rasharkin have potential to become more significant in the future. In each of these cases the problem was one of loyalist parades being held in predominately nationalist areas. At the same time as many parades are held on a rotating cycle of more than a year, future marching season may throw up protests in yet more places.

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SECTION 14: Review of the Main Issues

There are now over 3000 parades in Northern Ireland annually the vast majority of which are held by loyalist' groups and institutions. Although most of these parades are not directly disputed the sheer number and frequency of parades does cause resentment amongst sections of both the Catholic and Protestant communities. More significantly, those parades that are disputed have serious consequences for community relations within Northern Ireland.

Why are there such a large number of parades and why does the number appear to be increasing?

1. Parades and demonstrations, which have been common throughout western Europe, have remained particularly important in Northern Ireland due to ongoing ethnic differences which are highlighted in a lack of agreement over the nature of the state. Particular types of parades are understood as part of a communities tradition' distinguishing it from the other community.

2. The historical position of the Orange Institution in the north of Ireland, and within Northern Ireland since 1921, has provided the environment in which loyalist parades could flourish whereas nationalist and republican parades have been restricted to particular areas. In other words, the tradition' of parading has been largely based on an inequality of power.

3. The number of loyalist parades may have risen because of the divisions within Unionism and the insecurities brought about by the Troubles'. Splits within unionism have left the Orange Institution, which is still directly tied to the Ulster Unionist Party, as less representative of diverse unionist politics. This has led to an increase in the number of local parades many of which are held by other groups particularly marching bands. Whilst parading remains an important part of unionist political culture it is no longer the expression of unity that it previously might have been. In a state in which the Orange Institution is politically less powerful loyalist parades have become more diverse and more localised.

4. Increased political confidence within the nationalist community has led both to an increase in the number of parades particularly by republican groups. Given the prolonged IRA campaign many of these parades are seen as threatening within the Protestant community.

5. Parades continue to be used by politicians and political groups for their short term political ends.

What effect have these changes had upon parading in Northern Ireland?

1. Years of sectarian violence and tensions within Northern Ireland have reduced the acceptability of loyalist parades to many in the nationalist community and probably an increasing, although less vocal, proportion of the Protestant community. The parades have become 'less respectable'.

2. The increase in the number of blood and thunder bands and the more disparate nature of unionist politics has reduced the authority that senior Orangemen appear to have over the events they are organising. The Orange Institution no longer represents, and therefore has less authority over, the majority of those involved in parades

3. The sheer number of parades, particularly in predominantly Protestant towns, appears to have increased the alienation that the Catholic community feel toward the civic centres of those towns.

4. Residents groups in some nationalist areas have become more confident in expressing opposition to loyalist parades, particularly after the IRA and loyalist paramilitary ceasefires.

5. The parades have, more than ever, come to define the communal boundaries in Northern Ireland.

6. The parading issue has proved detrimental to the relationship the RUC have with both Catholic and Protestant communities despite efforts by the police to improve their position as a police force for all the communities. Since they most often try to maintain the status quo they are perceived by nationalist, and with some justification, as sustaining the imbalances that exist in public political expression which date back to the Stormont era. On the other hand, if they attempt to reduce or reroute parades, as they have done in some areas, they are inevitably accused of attacking the 'tradition' and the 'rights' of the Protestant community.

Approaches to resolution

This report discusses a number of options that have been raised as a means of resolving the problem of disputed parades. Some of these could be acted on in the short term others would need longer term planning and implementation. These are not recommendations but proposals for discussion.

1. Negotiation and Mediation
At present disputes over the right to parade are either resolved by the police making decisions according to the Public Order (NI) Order 1987, and physically enforcing that decision if necessary, or through intermediaries mediating an agreement or some accommodation between interested parties. Whilst both methods might produce short term answers in particular instances they are unlikely to prove effective in improving the general environment in which public political expression in Northern Ireland takes place. Consequently the problem of the right to parade remains as a blight upon community relations.

Four points appear to be clear:

i. In principle everyone should have the right to parade as an expression of their cultural identity.

ii. The right to parade must be balanced by the rights of residents through which proposed parades might pass.

iii. Those organising parades need to held accountable and responsible for the totality of what takes place.

iv. Some method needs to be found within which arbitration and adjudication of disputes can take place.

A number of proposals which may move towards an improvement in the situation might be considered.

2. A Parading Commission
A commission could be set up in the short term which might develop a set of principles under which political expression in Northern Ireland could take place. In particular, accommodation might be found between the rights of communities not to be disturbed by parades and the rights of others to hold parades. These principles should be developed around ideas of consensus and accommodation rather than consent and tradition. The Commission could also offer an overview of all the disputed parades and make recommendations which would treat all parade disputes as a single issue. The Commission would work to a specific brief and be asked to make recommendations within a short period of time. Its role would be advisory.

3. Use of the Law
Consideration should be given to whether all sections of the Public Order (NI) Order 1987 are being fully utilised, or to whether further legislation is required to improve the control of parades and demonstrations.

4. Responsible Parading
Consideration should be given to the introduction of measures by those organising and those policing parades which enforce upon participants a greater responsibility for the events.

i. General Behaviour: The organisers of parades could take greater responsibility, and be seen to be taking greater responsibility, for what takes place in the events they organise. There are a whole series of areas which might be considered:

  • Better publicity of when and where parades are taking place.

  • Better liaison with local community groups.

  • Better control of sectarian music and chanting.

  • Improved controls on the displays of sectarian symbols

  • The possibility that flags might be furled or music stopped in particular areas.

  • The avoidance of Catholic churches on parade routes.

  • Restricting access to parts of a route to the parade only.

ii Stewarding and Marshalling - The role of parade stewards should be considered. What exactly should be their role? Should they liaise with community representatives? Are they clearly visible and distinct from the parade? Do they have adequate training?

iii. Community Liaison - Greater efforts might be made by parade organisers to liaise with representatives of the communities through which the parade will pass.

iv Voluntary re-routing - Organisers might take into consideration local sensitivities towards parades and consider a moratorium on events in an area over a specified time period.

v Externally Imposed Constraints - Consideration might be given to an advisory body or commission that could oversee public political expression in Northern Ireland (see below).

vi. Financial Constraints - Users of public spaces such as motorists, building contractors and race organisers have to cover themselves for financial liability. Consideration might be given to organisers of parades being required either to put down a financial bond or take out liability insurance against damage or violent behaviour during the parade.

5. A Parading Tribunal
A tribunal to consider parades could take a number or combination of forms:

i. A mediator or 'watchdog'.

ii. An arbitrator on particular disputes.

iii. A series of locally formed committees empowered to make judgements on specific local disputes.

6. Parade 'Planning' Permission
A commission to which all applications to parade should be made months in advance and which would adjudicate on contested applications. This would require significant revision to public order legislation.

A system set up to consider parading disputes has a number of advantages

i. It would reduce the role of the police in 'arbitrating' parade disputes.

ii. It would introduce some consistency to the decisions made over different parades.

iii. It would be able to make judgements on a wider set of criteria than simply public order.

iv. It would allow the public imposition of 'conditions' in particular instances.

v. It would make the decision making process more public and more accountable.

vi. It would allow both communities to use the force of argument and not the force of numbers.

vii. It could guarantee both the rights of those that wish to parade and the rights of residents.

However there are a number of problems with such a proposal:

  • It would be difficult to find a structure within which the tribunal could work which would be seen as legitimate by all those within the parading disputes.

  • It would, in all probability, require major revision to current public order legislation.

  • It would significantly increase the bureaucracy surrounding applications to demonstrate, although the cost of this could easily be offset if it served to reduce the required policing of events.

Most parades are peaceful and cause little or no offence. In the majority of cases the behaviour and discipline is perfectly acceptable. But methods need to be found to resolve the problems that do exist so that parades no longer damage community relations The long term aim should not be to prevent parades from taking place but rather to encourage a political environment where civil rights are respected and political expression can take place without threatening or inconveniencing the lives of others.

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