Community Impact of Public Processions

The study examined the community impact of public processions, with a particular focus on processions which were perceived to be 'problematic'. The research involved a multi-method approach and included qualitative and quantitative data collection. Although the research considered a wide range of processions (including community and political), its particular focus was on Loyalist and Irish Republican processions.

7 Concluding Points

7.1 This study highlights the complex landscape which characterises the incidence and impact of public processions in Scotland. It illustrates the significance of public processions for the organisations for whom these events have cultural and/or political importance; and has examined the challenges that public processions can present to the authorities in accommodating and policing them. Furthermore, it highlights the diverse views and experiences of community respondents who contributed to the study.

Notification and decision-making

7.2 While notification procedures and processes have become much clearer and more transparent at the level of statutory agencies and procession organisation communication and decision-making, these improvements have not extended to communities themselves who still often: remain unaware of impending processions; do not understand the basis on which they might object to them; and do not know who to go to if they did want to object.

7.3 Communities and community representatives, including in some instances elected councillors, were often confused as to where to find information on procession notifications and/or were unaware of how to make representations regarding notified or completed processions. Some respondents who had contested procession notifications were not satisfied that their concerns had been addressed. Web-based approaches to handling and communicating procession notifications were diverse and of variable quality. Commonly objections to, and complaints about, processions were made on the basis that people disliked the processing organisation or what they perceived that organisation to represent. As public authorities cannot act on these types of complaints, complainants were likely to be frustrated with the response.

7.4 Clear information on forthcoming processions could be important in mitigating any disruption. For instance, whilst the impact of public processions on local business appeared to be mixed, one common issue that most business respondents agreed on was that timely information and consultation on impending processions would be invaluable in helping them plan to minimise any possible disruption. Edinburgh had a good working model, where not only were procession notifications automatically circulated to an extensive list of interested parties, but a town centre coordinator acted as a single point of contact for local businesses to communicate with relevant Council Departments about impending processions.

7.5 Irrespective of consultation arrangements, a balance needs to be struck between the different conflicting demands and uses made on city centres. Increasingly regenerated city centre quarters are subject to new business developments and new housing, and residents and tenants of such areas may object to the presence of too many events and processions. Clearly, a balance between different city centre use needs to be struck, and successfully doing so primarily depends on public authorities and processing organisers having constructive working relationships that are based on high levels of trust. That said, the symbolic and practical importance of city centres as communal spaces, as distinct from purely commercial spaces, where people can congregate to participate in events, demonstrations and celebrations is of fundamental significance and should not be lost.

7. 6 Increasing moves towards multi-agency work in the management of processions appeared to signify positive developments. Through the enhancement of such relationships, some of the ongoing challenges associated with public processions may be navigated more effectively, notably balancing the ever-increasing demands made on city centres; and managing processions effectively to reduce the burden on public services, in particular with respect to processions that draw on police resources during peak periods of demand from the wider community (e.g. Friday and Saturday evenings).

7.7 Better working relationships between agencies and processing organisations are likely to reduce the planning burden and may also have the potential to reduce both the policing and other associated costs of facilitating processions. This is not to characterise the establishment of such arrangements as necessarily easy. In particular the development of the Event Management Plan approach in Glasgow has met with a number of challenges. Potential tensions are to be expected in the context of a city that shoulders a greater number of processions than any other, and where processions have in the past presented problems as much as presenting opportunities or moments of celebration. This appears to contrast with Edinburgh where processions have been perceived as intrinsic to the identity, brand, and economic prosperity of the City. Progress does however appear to have been made in Glasgow, and in particular the Council's open and consultative approach to reviewing its procession policy, appears to be helping establish stronger lines of communication and better relationships.

Policing processions

7.8 Policing arrangements have continued to evolve over time. Policing approaches that centre on targeted 'zonal policing' - focussing on potential 'flash' and 'pinch' points instead of heavily policing the processions themselves - are broadly welcomed by all stakeholders and appear to be more effective. Where possible[62], such approaches to policing may make more effective use of police resources. Much however depends on the experience and skills of those police officers who are responsible for planning, and leading such policing operations, on procession days. There was recognition that the availability, retention and development of officers with these skill sets was highly desirable.

Community impact and public perceptions

7.9 Well organised and effectively stewarded processions could be viewed negatively by observers but were less likely to instil fear or alarm as they passed through local areas. The ethnographic data highlighted that fear, alarm and public disorder were associated with events that attracted a counter-demonstration which did not appear to be entirely under police control; where the procession attracted a large following and where the behaviour of followers did not appear to be effectively stewarded; and/or when the procession moved through a geographical area where there was clear evidence of opposition to the organisation itself. Public processions often constitute 'contested spaces' and confrontations could emerge from a range of sources. Those areas of contestation were by no means always organised along sectarian lines, indeed respondents often claimed that confrontations were more commonly territorial or were between competing processing organisations, typically clashes between rival bands or between bands and supporters. Procession participants were often part of the local community through which the procession passed. This could, on occasion, result in less visible opposition, or in other circumstances, could increase already existing tensions within a local area. The ethnographic data was useful in identifying and illuminating this, but served to highlight the complexity of these issues rather than any regular pattern.

7.10 The 'cumulative impact' of public processions on more residential areas is extremely difficult to judge, even though some areas clearly hosted a disproportionate number of processions (e.g. see the visual depiction of cumulative processions in Parkhead/Bridgton in Annex F). Whilst large, one-off processions can be very disruptive, our own observations of smaller processions in residential areas demonstrated that they tended to be characterised by very limited numbers of supporters or bystanders, with processions passing very fleetingly through areas, and then disbanding quickly and leaving no discernible 'trace' on the surrounding area (in terms of people or processors loitering). Whilst some areas hosted a dozen or more of these smaller processions over the course of a summer, it would be a stretch to anticipate that these events caused much impact in terms of immediate and direct disruption. What our research could not evidence however, is whether cumulatively over the months and years such concentrations of processions in particular communities might have adverse impacts on community cohesion and wellbeing. Qualitative data did, however, indicate that negative impact is likely to be amplified by the frequency of processions through specific areas on an ongoing basis[63]. Moreover, whilst most small daytime processions seemed fairly low key in terms of nuisance or disruption, in some areas smaller processions were still permitted to process and play music in some residential areas at very early times (i.e. before 9 am on a weekend), or run-into times that were already problematic in terms of public nuisance and order (i.e. processions occurring during evening hours at weekends).

7.11 In terms of evidence of direct links between processions and public disorder and other criminality and anti-social behaviour, crime figures for our case studies showed no clear association between the processions and any noticeable spikes in crime. This accords with the perceptions of our respondents, both official and non-official alike, and may also support observations by a number of respondents that traditional Loyalist and Irish Republican processions were becoming, over time, less associated with confrontation, whilst being better managed, policed and stewarded. However, our research, also found clear evidence that 'lower-level' provocations and anti-social behaviour did still occasionally occur, such as racist or 'hate' speech, but were not always observed, or dealt with formally, by the police.

7.12 This research has demonstrated that negative perceptions surrounding processions was often characteristic of residents who felt that their communities lacked social cohesion and who had general concerns with issues such as anti-social behaviour. Hostility to some processions appeared to be related to respondent's perceptions of racism and sectarianism as being problems for Scottish society; rather than simply religious background. Stewarding and the conduct of the processors themselves can also contribute to public perceptions of their organisation and the extent to which they are viewed as having a negative impact in local areas. Developing and ongoing attempts by processing organisations (notably both Loyalist and Irish Republican organisations) to be more transparent and open to the general public about the cultural significance and remit of their organisations should be welcomed as an opportunity to offer further reassurance to communities who may otherwise associate procession organisations with their anxieties regarding various social problems. Community members may of course have little interest in taking up some of these opportunities to learn about processing organisations, and they may indeed remain actively 'agnostic' or opposed to the aims of a particular organisation, but the very act of being open may contribute over time to easing some anxieties surrounding the conduct and purposes of processions.

Problematic processions

7.13 Whilst our case-study crime figures may have shown no clear associations between processions and higher levels of offending, such associations have been shown to exist in relation to SDL events. For instance there was a clear spike in the number of religiously-aggravated offences in 2012 as a result of one SDL event in Edinburgh (Goulding and Cavanagh 2013). Furthermore, SDL events in Pollokshields, with its sizeable ethnic-minority population, were clearly associated with high levels of community concern, and accusations in relation to one static demonstration of racially aggravated offences not being dealt with by the police on the day. This shows the potential for processions by organisations such as the SDL to increase the incidence of crime and to impact negatively on communities.

7.14 The circumnavigation of procession regulations by holding static demonstrations, as used by the SDL and others, is inherently problematic. These demonstrations often constitute a significant threat to public order with the result that the police are required to 'escort' demonstrators to demonstration sites, (thereby facilitating de facto - free and protected - processions). Where processions are held in more neutral public space (such as city centres), unless the organisation or the communicated messages are themselves unlawful, existing legislation ensures that the potential threat of public disorder from counter-protestors does not over-ride an organisations' legitimate right to protest however much one may disagree with the aims or values of that organisation. What constitutes provocative or offensive behaviour is clearly highly controversial and contested. In the matter of public processions, international legislation makes clear that unless an organisation has been explicitly outlawed, the simple presence of an organisation in public space should not constitute a provocation or justifiable grounds for disorder. The focus rather, should clearly first and foremost be on the conduct of that procession. That said, there are clearly circumstances where the timing, location or duration of a procession may in itself be considered particularly provocative or offensive, and therefore particularly liable to provoke public disorder. For instance, the police were widely commended by respondents' for learning from their earlier experiences in Pollokshields and preventing any further static demonstrations in that area by the SDL.

Strengthening learning and moving forward

7.15 A key mechanism for minimising the negative impact of public processions, in particular those that are held regularly, is the capturing of police observations on the conduct of processions, and feeding these observations into the consideration of future procession notifications (usually through police 'remarks' and risk assessment documentation). This mechanism is usually formalised as a debrief process, where debrief forms are filled in by police officers, and debrief meetings can be held with procession organisers if required. There was a consistent view that police debrief processes were improving, and that this improvement was necessary to ensure that both procession participants and the community at large can have absolute confidence in their objectivity, transparency and fairness. For instance, whilst it is understandable and appropriate that police, on the day, may focus primarily on policing public order - and facilitating the smooth running of events to minimise the most obvious forms of disruption (e.g. traffic disruption) - it is important that provocations or incidents that may cause upset to community members, or indeed to procession participants, are captured and addressed.

7.16 The value of positive police-participant relationships is well evidenced in procedural justice research, which demonstrates that public co-operation with policing, and public identification with the laws that police officers are there to uphold, is greatly enhanced when members of the public feel that police officers deal with them fairly and respectfully. A more obvious and tangible benefit in the context of procession arrangements is that good police-participant relations will also facilitate better stewarding and self-policing by procession participants. Stewarding standards for most types of processions (particularly for organisations that process routinely), are acknowledged as having improved markedly, and the standards of conduct we observed in terms of procession participants was particularly high. Prior assistance with steward training provided by legacy Strathclyde police, had been well regarded.

7.17 One key area of progress is where processing organisations have indicated their willingness to work more closely with the police in order to minimise inappropriate, offensive, or anti-social behaviour by procession supporters or 'hangers on' (though both organisers and the police were mindful of the appropriate limits to the role of stewards in this respect). Improvements in stewarding arrangements by some traditional processing organisations (notably Loyalist and Irish Republicans) had been noted positively by respondents from local communities; reinforcing the findings from previous research that large groups are capable of self-policing and that this can result in less confrontation and more negotiated approaches to policing.

7.18 This study, by using a mixed-methods approach, has highlighted the complex terrain that local authorities, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government are required to navigate in order to ensure the right to free speech is upheld and that individuals and groups are entitled to freedom of expression. At the same time, the right of others to be protected from intimidation or harm is also paramount. In Scotland, there is a positive tradition of managing the potential disjuncture between these rights and freedoms, and as this study has highlighted, there appears to be a willingness to work towards improving this. Our recommendations will hopefully assist in this development.


Email: Linzie Liddell

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