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.

Community Impact Of Public Processions[1]

Executive Summary

This summary sets out key findings from a multi-method study into the community impact of public processions in Scotland carried out in 2013. The research objectives were to identify which organisations regularly take part in processions, the aims and cultural significance of the events, the impact on communities, and factors which may contribute to, or may mitigate, the disruption of community life.

The mixed methods study included:

  • Collection and analysis of local authority statistics on procession notifications from across Scotland, and analysis of police incident data for the beat areas in which the processions took place;
  • Documentary analysis of relevant policies, guidelines and research reports;
  • Qualitative and quantitative data collection across case-study sites selected on the basis that they hosted prominent key processions;
  • Interviews and focus groups with procession organisers, procession participants and public authorities (primarily the police and local authority officers);
  • Residential, street and telephone surveys with local residents in 'live' case-study areas, both before and after selected processions;
  • On-street and business mini-surveys with bystanders, supporters and local retail businesses;
  • Structured and unstructured ethnographic observations of processions in live case-study sites.

In total, extensive ethnographic research (including participant observation, formal and informal dialogue across the fieldwork sites) was carried out at 12 processions; 713 surveys and mini surveys of residents and businesses were collected across five live case-study sites (Coatbridge, Govan, Parkhead, Bridgeton and Airdrie). In addition, in-depth formal interviews were conducted with 40 respondents. Ten focus groups were carried out with key stakeholders (including police, local authority and community representatives; and members of processing organisations).

Survey responses were based on convenience sampling approaches and the statistical data explores the issue of community impact rather than measuring it in a way that is readily generalizable to specific places or broader populations. Statistical and ethnographic data form a triangulated set of research methods that examine the issue of impact on a case-study basis, with the case-studies focussed primarily on particular processions rather than particular places. The study explores experiences and perceptions of public processions within communities, recognising that the concept of homogenous and distinct 'communities' existing within specific geographic locales was rare.

Key findings and recommendations

Research Aim 1: To identify which organisations arrange and take part in processions on a regular basis in Scotland

Between 2010 and 2012, the total number of procession notifications across Scotland increased by 30% (from approximately[2] 1942 notifications in 2010 to 2644 in 2012) according to available data. This increase can be linked to the use of the notification system for events that may not previously have required a notification. It also includes multiple applications for some events. Different approaches to the notification system across local authorities make it difficult to accurately compare and contrast the number of actual processions which take place on a yearly basis.

Community events accounted for the majority of procession notifications (including local fairs and gala events). In 2012, procession notifications by loyal orders (Orange Order, Apprentice Boys of Derry and Royal Black Institute) and related bands accounted for 34% of procession notifications[3]. This denotes a reduction in the overall total from 43% in 2010 (n=699) to 34% of the total in 2012 (n=773); to some extent due to the increasing proportion of community procession notifications but also denoting a proportionate decrease in loyal order notifications. In 2012, political notifications (including Trade Union Congress (TUC) and diversity events) and Irish Republican procession notifications (including Cairde na h'Eireann, Commemoration Committees and Irish Republican bands) remained relatively steady (both at approximately 2% of the total; n=45 and 41 respectively), whilst community processions accounted for 62% of the total (up from 54% of the total in 2010).

Beneath these national patterns there are clearly marked variations in the number and type of events situated in different local authority areas. Whilst community processions may be most frequent nationally, in some local authorities such as North Lanarkshire, small Loyalist processions (typically with less than a hundred participants) constituted the majority of annual processions. In contrast, cities such as Edinburgh host few Loyalist or Irish Republican events (in 2012 circa. 6% of processions in Edinburgh were of this type compared to 76% of processions in North Lanarkshire and 73% in Glasgow), but instead hold a smaller number of much larger processions associated with political protest or diversity issues. Where there are concentrations of Loyalist and Irish Republican events, Loyalist events constitute the large majority of processions (e.g. only 6% of processions in Glasgow in 2012 could be described as Irish Republican).

Variation in the collation of records makes it very difficult to determine which local authorities experience the greatest number of processions that generate community disruption or concern. Drawing upon documentary analysis and interviews, processions which appear to have raised concerns in recent years include those organised by Loyalists (and emerging organisations such as the Regimental Blues) Irish Republicans and the far-right Scottish Defence League.

Research Aim 2: To identify the aim of these events, and what those who take part in them, and the communities in which they take place, understand to be their cultural significance

While processions were important to the organisations who participated in them, these organisations were not entirely homogenous, and difference and disagreements could be identified across organisations within the same tradition. Loyalist organisations (which included the Orange Order, Apprentice Boys of Derry, Royal Black Institution) defined themselves on a religious basis with processions forming an important tradition within their organisation and constituting a 'celebration' of their Protestant identity; generally marking a particular historical event in their organisational calendar or denoting a more contemporary development (i.e. opening of a lodge).

Irish Republicans, in contrast, defined themselves as organisations that campaign on behalf of, and support, the Irish community in Scotland. Events organised by Irish Republicans were few in number and had a political focus; defined by the organisers as having the explicit aim of challenging racism, notably anti-Irish racism, and sectarianism in Scottish society.

Emerging organisations have recently been associated with public concerns, for example, the Regimental Blues which describes itself as 'a Pressure Group standing for The Protestant Loyalist Community of Scotland', while The Scottish Defence League (SDL) seeks to maintain, what it perceives to be, Scotland and Britain's Christian heritage and traditions, whilst at the same time mobilising against what it claims to be the 'islamification' of Scotland and Britain.

The research uncovered a significant gulf between the procession organisers and participants understanding of processions and the way in which they were broadly perceived by the general public. Thus, while organisations such as Loyalist and Irish Republicans defined themselves in terms of their cultural heritage, traditions and, in the case of the Loyal Orders, their Protestant identity, survey respondents often associated these processions with broader community and social problems, and sectarianism. This appears to be exacerbated by the behaviour of a minority of spectators and followers, according to qualitative findings. Traditional Loyalist and Irish Republican organisations were making significant attempts to be more transparent about their organisations remit, holding various types of open days and events to communicate the heritage and purpose of their organisations to a wider public, and through the use of social media. Conversely organisations such as the SDL and emerging 'dissident' Loyalist groups were less likely to disclose specific aims of their processions or to make this known in advance to local communities.

Research Objective 3: To understand any impact public processions have on community life, fear, alarm or public disorder within the communities in which they take place

This research highlighted the challenges of identifying and seeking the views of identifiable 'communities' which are rarely homogenous and are often hard to reach. Nevertheless, a number of factors are likely to affect the community impact of public processions including size and the relationship (or lack thereof) of the procession to the local population. Local people can be affected in different ways, and in some cases followers and supporters can have a significant impact on residents and on the procession itself. In other circumstances, the presence and actions of counter-demonstrators can have a significant impact. A range of impacts were observed across case-study sites including: excitement and enjoyment among participants and spectators; levels of disruption and inconvenience which ranged from low to major; and on occasion, serious concern and upset. Confrontations which did occur were not 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. A range of factors also influenced whether any impact was transitory and fleeting, or longer-term.

A number of key themes were identified from the different data collected:

  • Large processions were likely to cause major disruption (due to road closures, large numbers of participants and supporters) but the pre-planning required could enable those affected to plan for the event in advance.
  • The impact of processions was often experienced differently by different groups. Post-procession survey respondents who had deliberately turned out to watch and take part in a procession (although constituting a small minority of less than 1 in 5 respondents) were much more positive about their experience than those who came upon it unexpectedly.
  • By-standers (those who did not participate or actively come to watch the procession) were more negative about perceived broader community impacts (in terms of tension and anti-social behaviour).
  • A majority of pre-procession survey respondents (based on a sample of 178 people) in three case-site areas (Coatbridge, Govan and Parkhead) held negative views about Loyalist (53%) and Irish Republican processions (56%). This was in contrast to most other types of processions, including community and other political processions which tended to be viewed positively.
  • Post-procession assessments (based on a postal sample of 192 people in four case- site areas: Coatbridge, Govan, Parkhead and Bridgeton) found that respondents tended to associate both Loyalist and Irish Republican processions with a range of social problems. For example around three quarters of respondents agreed that a recent procession had led to anti-social behavior (76%) or caused tension in the community (73%). Furthermore a clear majority of respondents agreed that they were held up or delayed, or felt annoyed/upset by the noise associated with a procession (69% and 67% respectively). Just under a third (32%) of respondents reported feeling in physical danger. This contrasted however with the views of bystanders who took part in on-street surveys directly following a procession (based on a 'convenience' sample of 116 people), where 71% of respondents 'strongly' or 'somewhat' disagreed that they had felt intimidated or nervous).

Negative views of Loyalist and Irish Republican processions may be based on a number of factors including: people's previous experience, media representations, what the processing organisations are perceived to represent etc. However, examination of the pre-procession survey data highlighted a number of factors which seem to be closely connected with attitudes to processions. Principally, people who reported lower levels of social cohesion (indicated by a sense of 'belonging to their community'), and/or who perceived racial prejudice and/or sectarianism to be a substantive problem in Scotland, were more likely to be negative about these types of procession. These associations however are complex and tentative. For instance, it is not clear whether (if at all) lower social cohesion results in processions being assessed more negatively, or whether negative attitudes to processions results in lower social cohesion.

Despite the negative post-procession assessments of Loyalist and Irish Republican events, the case-study sites did not evidence any notable 'spikes' in antisocial or criminal behaviour. Qualitative data however showed that there were concerns from some groups that on occasion the police failed to respond to 'hate-speech' or racism (including anti-Irish racism), for example when Irish Republican processors were subject to verbal, anti-Irish abuse by demonstrators or when local communities were subjected to racist abuse at SDL events (a significant increase in reported charges of religiously aggravated offending in 2012-13 was linked to an SDL procession). This may reflect some of the difficulties for policing processions where the police are not always able to identify incidents or deal with problems immediately due to the presence of large numbers of people. However, officials noted recent improvements in monitoring and reviewing behaviour at processions.

The dominant concern of residents and visitors associated with the processions tended not to be related to the behaviour of procession participants but to the behaviour of procession supporters or other bystanders or 'hangers on' who were seen as causing trouble and nuisance around processions. The research found that even some of those who chose to attend processions felt threatened or intimidated by attendees who followed the procession but did not appear to have formal links with the organisation.

In terms of the impact upon local businesses, evidence suggested that this was very mixed and varied by site and the type of business in question. There was however common agreement among business respondents that timely information and consultation on impending processions could help mitigate against possible disruption.

Research Objective 4: If any of these processions are associated with disruption to community life, fear, alarm or public disorder, to understand what factors contribute to this

While large, annual events are generally preceded by some form of community notification, local residents may be unclear when processions will occur. Whilst a proportion of respondents claimed an advance awareness of some processions[4], a higher proportion of individuals only became aware of processions on the day; limiting the potential to make alternative arrangements. Indeed local authority representatives identified that much of the community impact was associated with practical disruption (i.e. relating to traffic and access).

Notification procedures and processes have become clearer at the statutory agency level, however mechanisms for gauging community sentiment appear to be weak and under-used. Respondents were often unaware where to find information on procession notifications or completed processions. Furthermore, survey respondents were generally unclear as to how to register concerns they may have in relation to a forthcoming procession, with only a minority agreeing that they knew how to raise objections. Where respondents indicated that they had raised an objection with their local authority, they often felt their concerns had not been addressed. Complaints were often made on the basis of a dislike for the processing organisation or what they were perceived to represent. Public authorities are unable to act on this basis.

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 Apprentice Boys of Derry and Cairde na h√Čireann in particular were widely commended for their proactivity in improving the organisation and management of their processions, with the former being notable for the quality of its stewarding and the latter for the degree to which it took responsibility for its supporters.

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.

Regardless of the conduct of supporters and bystanders, the very presence of organisations in certain settings was perceived to be antagonistic or aggressive. A highly problematic type of event was observed with SDL attempts to hold demonstrations and processions in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow. These events were perceived to be provocatively targeted at residential areas that house a significant concentration of a particular population (in this case ethnic minority residents), and where the message of the organisation was seen to be clearly antagonistic to, and targeted at, those residents. The study also highlighted concerns associated with the increase in demonstrations and processions by new/breakaway supposedly 'Loyalist' groups (in particular the 'Regimental Blues'), and emerging 'dissident Irish Republicans', although the latter are much smaller in number.

These more controversial events aside, even more orderly and peaceful processions nevertheless pose challenges in terms of their sheer volume, the presence of competing events, changing land use in city centre areas, and competing demands made on local authority and police resources. The research findings indicated that productive working relationships built on high levels of trust between event organisers and statutory agencies were key to successfully navigating these challenges.

Better working relationships between Police Scotland and processing organisations had allowed for the development of more low key policing tactics, which made some processions appear less threatening and more welcome for supporters and bystanders alike, whilst also making most effective use of police resources. Procession negotiations and planning appeared smoothest when procession organisers worked with officers that they knew, and where they felt these officers treated them with fairness and respect.

In terms of local authorities there appeared to be a clear movement away from more traditional approaches to dealing with procession organisations, where local authority officials could if required, pass judgement on notifications, but otherwise left the more practical details of planning and negotiation to the police and procession organisers. This approach to processions was perceived to be adversarial by procession organisers and was resource intensive for the police. Conversely, the trend now appears to be towards approaches where local authorities and the police take on an increasingly shared role in planning for processions, with various innovations emerging for dealing with large processions; in particular on a multi-agency basis (as in Edinburgh and Perth) or reducing the planning burden associated with large annual processions by developing Event Management Plans (as in Glasgow), that are agreed in detail between procession organisers and the public authorities, and that can thereafter be substantially 'rolled over' from year to year.


Email: Linzie Liddell

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