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.

4 Community Impact: Planning And Management Of Public Processions

4.1 The aim of this chapter is to examine the impact of processions on communities from the perspective of statutory agencies, and to consider the strategies employed by agencies to identify and mitigate any negative impacts that may arise from processions. The principal agencies with responsibility for managing processions are local authorities and the police, and a range of interviews and focus groups were conducted producing information on practices across a range of areas, but with the majority of information pertaining to four local authority areas. Whilst this sample is by no means representative of all local areas, it should be noted that the two most populous local authority areas in Scotland are included in this sample, whilst three of these areas are also particularly significant in terms of hosting processions[31].

Procession types, trends, and challenges

4.2 The variety of events that were hosted across the four local authority areas included[32]:

  • Small to medium-sized disorganised processions. Often one-off events such as student demonstrations, though well intentioned and not posing any specific threat of disorder, nevertheless proved challenging due to the inexperience of the event organisers. As these events were often organised with limited notice, the procession notification could often coincide with advertising for the event, making it difficult for local authorities and organisers alike to change event details subsequently.
  • Small to medium-sized 'feeder' or 'return'[33] Loyalist processions, or other small to medium-sized Irish Republican (and associated band) processions. All four local authority areas hosted one-off, as well as more regular processions of this type. These are the most numerous types of processions, with lodges, or bands or chapters, often parading several times per year in their 'home' locality (most notably the large processions that occurred on July 6th).
  • Large processions where no counter-demonstration was anticipated. These events posed challenges primarily in terms of disruption and planning rather than presenting issues with community safety or disorder. One variable that made planning for these events difficult was that the numbers turning up at such events could be difficult to determine (typically depending on the weather or the optimism of organisers) making it difficult to resource these events efficiently. In particular the risks of under-policing a procession on the basis of under-estimating attendance, led to the requirement to fully resource events that might subsequently be significantly under-attended.
  • Large events where a counter-demonstration (whether static or also a procession) was anticipated.
  • 'Extraordinary' events. These are rare, high profile events, such as the Pope's visit to Scotland in 2010, or the Make Poverty History rally that was held during the G8 summit in 2005 that combine both heightened security issues associated with VIPs, considerable issues associated with crowd health and safety, and massive disruption to city centre areas and public transport infrastructure. In addition these events can pose significant organisational challenges requiring complex multi-agency and cross-jurisdictional co-ordination and collaboration.

4.3 Trends, in terms of the number of processions have already been identified in Chapter 3, though agency respondents frequently noted a reduction in number of participants in smaller Loyalist and Irish Republican processions, and a reduction in confrontations and disorder associated with Loyalist and Irish Republican processions more generally (Police 1, Police 2, Police 3 and Local Authority 4). No clear evidence was proposed as to why this may be the case. Where certain processions had been associated with confrontations between Loyalist and Irish Republican groups in the past, these were also notable by their absence for the most part in summer 2013 (Local Authority 3 and Police 3), though as our own fieldwork observations demonstrated, the potential for new confrontations was still present. Though some areas (Area A) had seen a reduction in the number of small 'return' and 'feeder' processions, other areas had not (Area B), and indeed had also noted (Area B) an increase in smaller band processions.

Procession impact

4.4 In terms of procession impacts, there were a number of commonly identified issues. Many revolved around logistical disruption such as processions moving too slowly or spreading out too thinly thereby exacerbating the extent to which they disrupted traffic or blocked access to businesses. Increases in car ownership and traffic also made some local and traditional routes problematic:

In one way you can expect when you're in a major public thoroughfare a degree of disruption for people using the public thoroughfare for something that they're entitled to do very publicly. But it's a wee bit different if you're in your garden in a small 1950s housing scheme where the roads were not really built for today's traffic and you've got something like 200 people with loud bands going past your door! Probably very much more so if it happens to be quite early in the morning! (Local Authority 2)

4.5 All local authority areas had a general preference for routing processions out of residential side streets as much as possible, though early morning Loyalist parades in particular could involve bands and lodges moving through residential streets as early as 7:30 on a weekend morning. Whilst some local authorities attempted to control this through guidelines or conditions that prohibited the playing of music until 9:00, in some local authorities the absence of formal public complaints regarding these early morning parades made it difficult to enforce such conditions.

4.6 Local authority and Police Scotland respondents identified well known flashpoints which could relate either to confrontations (typically outside pubs or specific streets) or to the slowing of the procession and the potential for singing identified by the authorities as 'sectarian' (typically under railway bridges) (Police 1, 2, 3, 4, Local Authority 2 & 3). Whilst Loyalist and Irish Republican procession participants were generally commended for not taking part in confrontations or engaging in sectarian singing, certain lodges and bands were considered to either be associated with more troublesome supporters, and/or be more at risk of breaching procession conditions or codes of conduct (Police 1). Moreover, it could also be difficult for the police to determine whether certain behaviours were, or were not, provocative or sectarian:

Now I've got 30 years' experience, I still don't know you know...unique little differences in flags and emblems and a particular line in a song even at this stage […] It's evolving all the time. (Police 1)

4.7 Confrontations 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 (Local Authority 3, Police 2 & 4). Generally, flashpoints that were associated with counter-demonstrations were policed, and local authorities in particular were reluctant to restrict processing organisations on the grounds that counter-demonstrations might occur, though at the same time the need to dissuade processing organisations from obvious provocations in terms of route or timing was recognised:

Just because there's a counter-demonstration doesn't mean that's an automatic refusal. Police might try and persuade organisers to alter obvious provocations in the route, but they are equally clear that there shouldn't be 'no go' areas. (Local Authority 3)

4.8 More generally, issues of anti-social behaviour, principally public drinking and public urination were commonly mentioned in relation to the supporters (or observers) of processions. Whilst some processing organisations were quick to distance themselves from responsibility for people on the street outside the procession, this was a point of frustration for many public officials:

but in my opinion they can't completely cut themselves away from that, those people, those supporters, would not be there if that procession wasn't going there. (Local Authority 3)

4.9 Issues around flashpoints and anti-social behaviour were particularly associated with late-afternoon and early-evening return processions. This was in part that, by the end of a long processing day, supporters had often had a lot to drink, and in part because pubs were busier and there were more people around who had been drinking generally. Policing resources traditionally could also be stretched by this point, as officers themselves may have been out with a procession all day (following it from the early morning feeder, through a main procession, and then back in the evening). Conversely if a new shift of officers came to escort the return procession, they could be hindered by not being aware of preceding issues.

4.10 Poor stewarding was another frequently mentioned issue, though problems of stewarding did not generally relate to Loyalist or Irish Republican processions, but, in particular, to one-off processions where the organisers had limited experience of running an event (Police 3 & 4, Local Authority 1). One area of criticism however relating to Loyalist processions in particular was that stewarding tended to focus on the procession and not to take sufficient responsibility for supporters.

4.11 Possibly the most challenging type of procession facing respondents in certain local authorities were notifications for processions from the far-right Scottish Defence League (the SDL) and subsequent notifications by anti-fascist protestors (such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF)). These processions were variously targeted at city centres but also in at least one prominent instance, at a residential area with a substantial ethnic minority population raising two key issues. First, the SDL, anticipating refusals by local authorities to hold a procession, often resorted to static demonstrations that required no notification to be given, and could not be prevented by local authorities[34]. However, to facilitate a peaceful static demonstration where significant numbers of counter-demonstrators are present requires a significant police presence, including escorting SDL members to the static demonstration site. This in effect gives the SDL a 'de facto' procession. When this occurred in one residential area in early 2013, the sight of both the SDL, and a large number of police officers, escorting and protecting this very small number of SDL members (approximately eight), caused considerable community upset. Indeed the scale of the policing operation led to claims by some residents that they were effectively trapped in, or outside, their homes.

4.12 The second key issue was that in other circumstances where the SDL have been given permission to process, the procession notification has quickly triggered a notification for a counter-demonstration by anti-fascist protestors. This in itself causes significant logistical and policing issues, as local authorities have to attempt to facilitate both processions in a way that avoids direct contact or confrontation, in circumstances where one side (the anti-fascist protestors) are explicitly seeking to make a visible protest. Policing practices can minimise direct confrontation through a process of 'facilitated' confrontation.

4.13 A related issue mentioned across local authority areas and which had a particular bearing on SDL processions, but also created difficulties in terms of counter-demonstrations with Loyalist and Irish Republican processions, was the growth in use of social media, which could lead to processions, counter-protests and confrontations being quickly assembled and organised at a speed that proved challenging for local agencies to keep abreast of, and respond to.

4.14 One final impact that particularly affected certain local authorities (Areas A, B & D) was the sheer accumulation of processions through the year, and the extent to which particular communities were impacted disproportionately:

What keeps coming back is the number of parades, I don't think anyone says that marching or parades should be stopped and let's face it there are people protesting in Egypt and across the world who are looking for that level of democracy, human rights to parade and assemble… so we're lucky that we do have a democracy that recognises these rights […]. I think it's the number and the regularity of them and to be fair I would probably say that's where the challenge comes from (Police 1).

4.15 Large Loyalist processions with feeders, a main procession, and returns, could result in particularly 'cumulative' impact as an area could host processions from early morning to early evening across multiple locations. Indeed one procession included within this research included a substantial main procession, preceded and followed by over 70 feeder and return processions. However, this issue could also extend to processions and events that were actively courted by local authorities and commerce:

That's where the Council is caught between a rock and a hard place, we want the events, because they have a big impact on the economy, but the residents [speaking of opposition from one particular community area]… small community groups, not big numbers, but they know where to go, which councillors to target, and which committees to go to (Local Authority 1).

4.16 However, there is no clear basis in law for restricting processions on the grounds of cumulative impact. As notifications must be considered on a case by case basis in terms of their own merits so, arguably, must any assessment of impact. Though one local authority was keen to apply the issue of cumulative impact when considering procession notifications, and indeed was keen to an extent to 'thin-spread' and 'share' the hosting of processions, the police in the same area had a preference for retaining well established procession routes as these proved easier to plan for in terms of tactics for dealing with existing route features, flashpoints etc. (Police 3). The geography (both physical and symbolic i.e. where a locality had a particular significance for an organisation) of urban areas could also compound the extent to which certain areas, both residential and commercial, received more than their share of processions. Whilst cumulative impact was difficult to address in such instances, local authorities were able to more easily justify some measures to address cumulative impacts arising from multiple processions on the same day (Area A and D in particular). Where city centres hosted multiple and competing events on the same day, it was often easier to justify the need to alter procession routes and timings to ensure the safety of participants and the community. In other instances, where multiple processions were associated with the same event, local authorities could struggle to get procession organisers to treat all of the processions as part of a single event, and to plan and coordinate the processions accordingly.

Consultation and anticipating impact

4.17 The majority of local areas had a similar approach, as per the recommendations of the Orr Review for dealing with notifications, and for assessing whether any processions might unduly result in disruption to the life of the community or might precipitate social disorder. Processing organisations sent in notifications and self-completed risk assessments, usually (although not exclusively) to a designated official in a local authority licensing section. Meanwhile, the police having received a copy of the notification would produce their own set of comments on the procession which in turn would be submitted to the relevant local authority official. Police comments might in some instances be based on subsequent meetings between the police and the processing organisation. They would also usually take cognisance of any records of prior processions by that organisation in the local area. The notification would also normally be sent to a standard list of consultees, including relevant ward councillors, community councils, and those departments within the relevant local authority who would need to be aware of the procession (e.g. roads and transport, parks and recreation etc.). In some local authority areas there were extensive lists of standard consultees which might include local community and church organisations, the local registry office (to avoid processions clashing with weddings etc.) and any other individual or body that had indicated that they would like to be consulted on any particular type of procession notification.

4.18 When it came to communicating with the general public, local authorities almost exclusively relied on web-pages with notification lists:

There is this issue about community consultation and how proactively one does it. I don't think any area particularly does do more than put it on the website (Local Authority 4).

4.19 The effectiveness of this form of communication was viewed with scepticism by many:

I don't think that medium is the best to truly capture community feelings and impact on things… (Police 1)

4.20 However, others, including some processions organisers, were wary of courting public opinion when they were of the view that the public would be predominantly opposed to the aims of their organisation (Procession Organisation 1). Local authorities also found that notifications tended to prompt complaints about the nature of the processing organisation rather than formal objections that they, the local authority, could act on (Local Authority 2, 3, and 4):

The law is absolutely clear that the purpose of a march is something which the authority should be blind to, and the fact that somebody disagrees with the purpose of a march, provided the purpose is legal and isn't support of a proscribed organisation, the fact that somebody disagrees or indeed were it to be shown that the majority disagree with the purpose of a march it's not something the subcommittee could take account of (Local Authority 2).

4.21 Notifications of big processions could lead to better public awareness on the basis of press coverage, or on occasions as a result of one-off police and/or council communications with residents in the most affected areas. Residents and businesses were seen as being more likely to tolerate disruption if they at least knew about it in advance and had the opportunity to comment (Police 2). Conversely, notifications for some large events were submitted so far in advance (e.g. a year) that by the time the public raised issues about the procession nearer the event date, the period for actually formally raising objections had already closed (Local Authority 4).

4.22 Most local authority respondents - though acknowledging the limitations of web notifications - were firmly of the view that the main channel for the community, and indeed for community councils, to legitimately express concerns about processions was via their local councillors. This was because if significant concerns were raised about a procession that could not be readily resolved, it would be for elected councillors on the relevant committee to determine whether the procession needed to be restricted in some way (Local Authority 1 and 2). However, a limitation of this approach was that local councillors themselves were not always adept at objecting to processions on the right grounds, or in the right language, repeating the mistake of objecting to the 'message' of the processors rather than focussing on the specific facets of the procession that could be plausibly linked to probable community disruption or disorder. In the one instance where an organisation had been refused permission to return to a particular area for a procession, it was the ability of one of the local councillors to clearly articulate the community disruption that had occurred on a previous 'visit,' backed up by effective police comments, that gave the relevant council committee the grounds, and the confidence, to prohibit the procession in that area (Local Authority 3).

4.23 There were other mechanisms in place in different areas for improving community consultation. Notably in one area (Area D) an appointed city centre coordinator was considered highly valuable in terms of reinforcing communication and consultation with the business community, and in terms of ensuring that businesses could easily reach the most relevant council officials as required. On occasion, processing organisations had, exceptionally, communicated directly with a host community, with one organisation leafleting residents before a particular procession (Procession Organisation 4).

4.24 Aside from pre-procession consultation and representations, the key input into considering many repeat procession notifications, was the conduct of the processing organisations on prior occasions. Here again direct community communication with council officials was limited and the view was that 'apathy rules' (Police 1 and 4) whilst agencies had no formal mechanisms for capturing community views on impact beyond relying on community members to write letters or emails (Police 4). But some respondents took the view that communities were too inured by years of repeated processions to complain:

This is because … many, many years …. these walks have taken place and … they might not be proactive and say 'well what's the point because year after year it's passed in 15 minutes', it's an inconvenience at most, but you can bet your bottom dollar if you went and knocked the doors of all the people who went along there they might say 'well it was a bit of an inconvenience, yes' (Police 1).

4.25 The relative paucity of communication from the public as well as from other interested parties (retailers, transport bodies etc.) and the lack of any clear definition of what constitutes 'community disruption' meant that some local officials felt that in their role they had to some extent compensate for this lack of input:

How I see my role, is, I need to be even handed, but I've got the police's view, I have the organisers view, most of the people out there haven't got their view because we don't get a lot of objections from community councils or transport operators or anything like that, so I say okay, I have to think about them, and I see myself, not as their spokesperson, but reflecting that, because that is where disruption comes in in terms of the impact on the city centre (Local Authority 3).

4.26 But in the absence of direct community communications, the main evidence on impact came from the content of police 'debriefs' after prior events. The quality and consistency of debriefing was openly recognised as having been variable in the past, though was also seen to be improving (Local authority 1, 2 and 4, Police 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5).

4.27 Debriefings were not usually undertaken in relation to most processions if they proved unproblematic. Typically large processions or processions that had proven problematic would tend to trigger the need for a debriefing process which might involve conversations both amongst police officers, between police officers and council officials, and between police officers and event organisers.

4.28 The formal debriefing process was seen as a useful way of ensuring compliance and co-operation of event organisers:

But on the day...whether you think it's right or wrong the police are few, they require your full and absolute cooperation. And that's where some of the debriefings are very good … (Local Authority 2).

4.29 It was suggested that while a procession organiser or participant may challenge a police instruction on the day, this could have repercussions when this was raised at a subsequent debrief:

In the cold light of day in a committee room ... "you did exactly what?" And "why then should any future public procession in which you propose to participate be allowed to proceed?" And it's amazing the extent to which that ensures that the police get full cooperation in the future. (Local Authority 2)

4.30 Beyond formal debrief by statutory agencies, event organisers themselves were sometimes proactive in holding their own debriefs, which could be used to identify issues that needed attention (Procession Organisation 2 and 3). For instance, some Loyalist event organisers had taken action to suspend bands that had behaved inappropriately during a procession, from further (paid) work accompanying their lodge or chapter processions. Moreover, formal debriefs also provided procession organisers (and local authorities) with the opportunity to raise issues with the style of policing, on occasions when it was alleged that policing tactics had caused problems (Local Authority 1 and Procession Organisation 3).

4.31 Whilst formal debrief mechanisms appeared generally to be improving, there were still nevertheless some concerns that police officers on the ground focussed predominantly in judging the success of processions on the basis of preventing violent disorder, and paid less heed to other issues, in particular the presence of hate speech or sectarian abuse. This was not to overstate the occurrence of such incidents, and Police Scotland have introduced specialist resources (notably Hate Crime Advisors and Evidence Gathering Teams) precisely to target these more 'difficult to capture' offences. Moreover, whilst, for some of the large processions studied here, a zero tolerance approach was espoused by police respondents (Police 1 and 2), there was evidence that this clearly did not apply to every event. For instance, during one SDL event, whilst the policing operation certainly successfully prevented any violent disorder, the event nevertheless, had also caused considerable community disruption and upset, with claims being made that event participants had racially abused residents (Local Authority 3).

4.32 Conversely, on the police side, the very success of policing difficult processions often meant that there was no evidence of problems that could be used to restrict or modify future repetitions of the same procession. This was frustrating in circumstances where it required considerable police resources to secure the smooth running of the event in the first place.

There's a double edged sword which is the council will say "right we can't really make any determination against this because last year it was fine"! The reason it was fine is we plan them! The reason it was fine is we put appropriate policing numbers to it, we engage with the organisers and things like that. So is our job to make sure it is fine (Police 1).

Planning and negotiating processions

4.33 Across the study, there were some marked differences in terms of how statutory agencies dealt with procession notifications, though the Orr report was considered helpful in that it had at least prompted local authorities to devise a formal and transparent process (Procession Organisation 3). Significant disparities in the way statutory authorities interpreted the legislative framework surrounding processions were seen as undesirable and to be avoided by both statutory agencies and event organisers alike. However, differences in the process for handling and planning processions seemed less troubling, and indeed some observed differences were readily explicable in terms of peculiarities of context. For instance, one area had a markedly more facilitative view of procession notifications, an approach that was readily appreciated by all the procession organisations who participated in this study:

By working with the event organiser, no matter what the event is, you are more likely to get cooperation from them if they believe you are there to facilitate. You know, 'we will close the road for you and we will liaise with the police, this is what you want but bear in mind this is what we want'. (Local Authority 1)

4.34 However, this area was notable for having comparatively few problematic processions, and for generally being an urban area whose 'brand identity' and economy was seen to benefit from large scale events. Conversely, two of the other areas which had to deal with large numbers of potentially problematic processions, took a more guarded view. Whilst officials still took their obligations to facilitate freedom of speech and the right to public assembly very seriously, they conducted their duties in a more sensitive and fraught environment, where there was considerably less public consensus as to the benefits of Loyalist and Irish Republican processions in particular. There was also some anxiety about the resources required to facilitate the large number of procession that were routinely occurring. Accordingly, in these areas event organisers had less trust in the statutory agencies, and felt that local authorities in particular had an agenda to restrict their rights to process (procession organisations 1, 2 and 3). Though even within these areas there were notable differences of context between sub-areas in terms of the sensitivity of communities to processions.

4.35 In all the areas the majority of small notifications were dealt with by the responsible council officials and police officers with limited input or detailed negotiation. However, in two areas, larger processions, or problematic processions, were dealt with through a multi-agency planning process that assembled key officials (e.g. the police, the other emergency services, transport and parks services etc.) together with event organisers to facilitate and plan the event. In one of these areas in particular the local authority was particularly clear in its responsibility for managing community safety, reflected in the role of the community safety team. In the other two areas, planning was largely undertaken by police officers; indeed, in one area the council considered any close planning or negotiation with event organisers as compromising its impartiality when making decisions on notifications.

4.36 Local authorities felt that event organisers did not always appreciate their work in helping facilitate the event, and the lack of capability amongst some procession organisations to plan their events in an effective manner was a source of frustration for many (Local Authority 1, 2, and 3). Conversely procession organisations often complained of excessive and spiralling bureaucratic requirements, and a lack of appreciation of the plans that they did present to local authorities (Procession Organisation 1, 2 and 3). However, both sides acknowledged that planning for big events in particular could be resource-intensive, involving meetings and negotiations over a period of many months. To this end one local authority area which hosted a high number of repeat Loyalist and some Irish Republican processions, had attempted to reduce the planning burden by introducing 'event management plans' that would guide the substantive format and planning for an annual procession over several years, thus cutting down on the annual planning round. Whilst this approach seemed promising, suspicions on the part of procession organisations that this approach was aligned to an agenda to reduce the number and size of processions, and a fear that concessions made in one year would then form the precedent for all future planned events, had led to rather limited engagement with the initiative. Council officials however were clear in their view that some concessions to minimise disruption, in particular reducing the numbers of feeder and return processions, would secure more public acceptance for processions generally:

if you almost did a straw poll [..] I think the public would accept the marching if it was a wee bit more restrictive, yes some people would ban them off the street straight away and would say why are you allowing these beep beep beeps marching up my street, but I think the public's understanding, if there was less […] (Local Authority 2)

4.37 Regardless of the precise process for handling and planning events, differences in local practices did not appear to impact on the extent to which procession notifications avoided serious restrictions. A consistent picture was the rare incidence of processions being severely restricted, or indeed those restrictions being legally challenged by organisers. Whilst this was broadly welcomed by respondents, the paucity of helpful legal interpretation of the legislative framework around certain key areas of uncertainty - principally what constitutes substantive 'community disruption' - was also noted (Local Authority 2).

4.38 It would appear therefore that the structures and processes employed in different local authorities did not appear to lead to markedly different outcomes. However, a key issue across all areas was the importance of clearly demarcated roles and responsibilities if these processes and structures were to work effectively. Turnover and limited tenure of police officers with a depth of experience in dealing with processions was also a frustration voiced in three of the four local authorities. In the fourth area (Local Authority 4) an experienced individual was employed by the police to deal with all licensing functions, an arrangement that provided a highly appreciated stability for other officials.

Improvements and developments

4.39 In terms of the handling of Loyalist and Irish Republican processions a range of marked improvements were noted over time in the two areas that hosted the greatest numbers of these events[35]. Though there were differences between them, and whilst many respondents felt there was scope for further professionalization and formal accreditation of stewards (Police 1, 2 3) in general the processing organisations were considered to be more co-operative, better organised, and better able to steward their own events:

Having worked many, many walks in the past ...on days I've kind of felt [breathes out loudly here] we've just got by, by the skin of our teeth and to be fair maybe the police weren't in control … I'm talking 10 to 15 years ago ...The last several years where we appeared to have a more structured ...approach to planning, looking at a different way, I feel that we have a better control, better liaison with the Orange Order, Republicans, and all others (Police 1).

4.40 The Apprentice Boys of Derry and Cairde na hÉireann 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 willingness of organisers generally, to take more responsibility for their own processions in turn had allowed the police to focus more on issues of disorder, whilst also reducing the amount of police resources required to manage processions:

I would say...prior to XXX walk which was 2 years ago...I reckon we were applying about 300 odd officers to the parade. The XXX one we went for...we managed to do it with about 170 (Police 1).

4.41 There was a ready appreciation that this scaled-back policing, and indeed the success of the notification system, depended fundamentally on constructive relationships being maintained with procession organisations:

We are trying to take organisations with us, but as you known the legislation is fairly weak, and you can only proceed on the basis of negotiation, compromise, discussion (Local Authority 3).

4.42 Another key facilitating factor in reducing the burden on police numbers when facilitating Loyalist and Irish Republican processions was the shift to more 'zonal' models of policing. Whereas previously, large processions in particular would be heavily policed in a linear fashion, with lines of officers escorting the participants, the police had now turned to focussing police resources on flashpoints where supporters and opponents might congregate. Bands, lodges, chapters etc. were still policed, but with a much lighter presence, typically no more than one or two officers, who would stay with their part of the procession for the duration of the day. Back-up units for large processions could then be located away from the procession route, but available if any significant issues arose. The approach was appreciated by the police and procession organisers alike, although it also required significant and effective planning, coordination and communication to be successful.

4.43 However, in spite of these reductions in the demand for policing larger events, the smaller day-to-day processions were still seen as a drain on resources. In particular, processions that coincided with periods of peak demand for policing more generally, namely Friday and Saturday evenings, were seen as particularly disruptive. As regular, smaller parades of this type had to be policed from existing duty resources, they were seen as directly detracting from the police's ability to police and assist the community more generally. Moreover, these resource pressures could necessitate comparatively light policing of these processions:

The issue comes about when it's the Orange walk or the Republican walk on a Friday evening, or a Saturday and when it's on duty resources. Now we can't put the resources or the amount of resources, or zone it or whatever it is on those occasions because we just don't have the resilience for it. So we may well put two officers on to that parade, now their ability to impact on antisocial behaviour, sectarian behaviour, I'm not saying its zero but with two's a challenge! (Police 1)

4.44 In instances where police numbers were too light, or crowd numbers were too great to facilitate intervening in instances of misbehaviour, the police instead relied on gathering video evidence that could either be actioned subsequently, or at least used to provide evidence at a debrief (Police 1, 2 and 3).

4.45 However, whilst processing organisers were appreciative of lighter policing, and accepted the need for competent stewarding there were still tensions between some procession organisations and some local areas in terms of the exact division of responsibility when it came to facilitating processions. These tensions were particularly persistent around the issue of recovering costs for the provision of local authority services required to facilitate the procession (Local Authority 1 and 3). Whilst, the recovery of policing costs, was excluded by pre-existing legislation, councils were entitled to recover costs for providing services that were required to facilitate the safe and orderly conduct of the procession (e.g. bins for the safe disposal of alcohol, the provision of toilets, the cleaning-up of park facilities after an event, safety barriers etc.). The ambiguity of what was 'required' was challenging, with procession organisations often disagreeing that certain equipment or services were necessary, particularly if that equipment or services was focussed on onlookers or supporters who they did not believe to be their responsibility. But when for instance it came to the provision of safety barriers for spectators - as one respondent pointed out - an organisers' desire to avoid incurring costs could conflict with their wish to have lightly policed events:

They say "we never had these things before?" Yes, ten years ago you never had these things but you would have three times the amount of cops lining the streets, and the XXXXX and the XXXXXX and all these organisers are the ones that don't want a sea of yellow jackets there because it puts a negative image on their procession, "oh why do they need so many police", but, it's not the police's role to be barriers (Local Authority 3).

4.46 In other areas, co-operative developments had clearly lessened the impact of processions, in particular the impact of larger Loyalist processions. Notably, the movement towards shorter turn-around times between the completion of large processions and the return of bands and lodges to their lodge districts reduced the scope of public drinking and the potential disorder in town centre areas (Local authority 2 and 3). Whereas previously, supporters of a procession might go off to drink in town centre pubs in the two or three hour gap between the end of a main procession and the dispersal of participants to conduct 'return' processions, now procession participants and supporters alike dispersed almost immediately after the conclusion of the main procession, thus considerably reducing the potential for disorder.

4.47 Finally, one interesting development noted across two local areas was that 'traditional' procession organisations themselves, though reluctant to directly consult with communities about specific processions, were increasingly keen to inform communities about the aims and objectives of their organisations (Organisation 1 and 3). Open days and other information events, whilst unlikely perhaps to win many converts, nevertheless may proffer the possibility of providing some re-assurance to community members who might otherwise ascribe hostile intent to the presence of these organisations in their midst.

4.48 Key points:

  • While there was evidence of a rich variety of processions taking place across Scotland during 2010-2012, respondents noted that the number of participants in small-scale processions by loyal orders and Irish Republican groups had reduced, as had confrontations and disorder associated with these organisations in the past. There was no clear evidence as to why this was so; however it was welcomed by all respondents, although the potential for new confrontations remained.
  • Patterns of processions varied across local authorities and while some areas had seen a reduction in the number of feeder and return processions by loyal orders, this was not the case across all local authorities. At least one area reported an increase in smaller band processions and attempts to establish new routes.
  • The issue of cumulative impact was problematic in some areas, where at certain times, processions were frequent. This could present challenges in areas where multiple and competing events were hosted on the same day.
  • Much of the community impact of processions was associated with practical disruption (i.e. relating to traffic and access). Local authorities had different regulations in place regarding early morning processions and their musical accompaniment. In some areas noise was prohibited between certain hours via guidelines or procession conditions, but not in all.
  • Absence of clear and coherent legislative interpretation of 'community disruption' created some uncertainly for local authority officials. Staff turnover could also make the process challenging, and across all areas in the study, the importance of clearly demarcated roles and good partnership working was emphasised in ensuring that processes and structures in place worked effectively.
  • Police and local authority respondents took care to monitor areas which were characterised as 'flashpoints' and where behaviour (sectarian singing, counter demonstrations) could create problems. Where confrontations or rowdy behaviour were identified, this tended to be associated with followers rather than procession participants.
  • The most challenging type of procession notifications were those from far-right organisations such as the Scottish Defence League (SDL) which also triggered a counter-demonstration by anti-fascist protestors. Failure to obtain agreement to proposed routes has often resulted in the SDL holding a static demonstration, thereby falling outwith the regulations governing public processions.
  • The increase in social media to publicise events has also created challenges for the authorities in terms of identifying and responding to potential events. Processions, counter-protests and confrontations could be quickly assembled and organised at a speed that proved challenging for local agencies to keep abreast of, and respond to. However, attempts by processing organisations to inform communities about the aims and objectives of their organisations were generally seen as positive developments.
  • Local authority reliance on web-sites to display community notifications was acknowledged as being limited in both informing and capturing objections to particular events by local residents. However, even where community notification was more comprehensive, it appeared that local residents and councillors were often unclear about the grounds for objection to a procession. Better communication with local residents and businesses did, however, appear to mean that people could make plans that minimised the disruption they were likely to face, something that was particularly important for large-scale processions which, by their very size, would have considerable impact on local areas.
  • Following a procession, where formal debriefs took place these were generally welcomed and viewed as effective ways of identifying and addressing issues arising.
  • Improvements in stewarding arrangements by key procession organisations were viewed as important and widely welcomed. This development was also considered to have contributed to the reduced number of police officers drawn upon to police such events. A shift to the use of zonal policing was also considered to have contributed to reduced police resourcing. Small processions, particularly those which took place on Friday and Saturday evenings were considered to be problematic in that they drew resources away from other priorities.


Email: Linzie Liddell

Back to top