Short Life Working Group on Facilitating Peaceful Assemblies: report

The Short Life Working Group on Peaceful Processions in Scotland has reviewed processions in Scotland. The report uses the comparison between Northern Ireland and Scotland as a basis to discuss how well the legislative framework and related processes are working in Scotland.

8. Encouraging dialogue and enhancing mediation capacity

8.1 It has been recognised within the model utilised in Northern Ireland that forms of engagement are vital in improving the chances of conflict free processions. Although the 28-day notification period provided by the legislation provides a period for engaging with interested parties and potentially creating forms of negotiation between all the interested parties, if required, experience from Northern Ireland suggests long-term improvements in relationships around processions and protests requires the building of relationships and dialogue over a significant period of time (see also Section 2.12(ii) above). If we look at case studies in Northern Ireland around parades in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast and in Derry/Londonderry, negotiation and mediation took place over a number of years and involved a long-term strategy. In both cases, the NI Parades Commission was not directly involved although the decision-making might have reflected the position of parties at different points in time. Without going into these case studies in detail it is important to note that there now exists a wide range of people who have experience of mediating between parties around processions.

8.2 In Derry/Londonderry those processing and those protesting at the parades made significant moves to solve the problems that date back to 1996. Among other things this included the moving of parades to different dates, the withdrawal of protests, the development of a festival, significant efforts to improve and resource stewarding by those processing and the Maiden City Accord from The Bands Forum in Londonderry that makes clear what the public can expect from their processions.[87] This work was facilitated by key parties, including within the business community in Derry/Londonderry, and work done by loyalist groups within the city. Some of this work has been captured in what has been called 'The Derry Model' for conflict transformation.[88]

8.3 Through the peace process in Northern Ireland, a significant mediative capacity has developed within civil society to support processes aimed at helping parties move beyond conflict.[89] Looking at the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, which requires the Parades Commission 'to promote and facilitate mediation as a means of resolving disputes concerning public processions' (see Appendix 4), we think it was probably envisaged that the Commission would have a more 'hands on' role than it does. Early on in its history it certainly had the capacity for more engagement but rather than employ 12 part-time Authorised Officers it now has two case workers (see Sections 4.6 – 4.9 above). These case workers concentrate on another duty of the NI Parades Commission, 'to keep itself generally informed as to the conduct of public processions and protest meetings'.

8.4 The Northern Ireland model would suggest that it is important that the relevant authority, the Parades Commission, not only has the capacity to collect information and engage with parties but that mediative practice is a resource encouraged outside the authority. In conversations with those involved in mediation there is a reasonably commonly held view that good mediation practice in this area should be separate from the decision-making process (see also Section 4.5 above). There are, however, some differences of opinion as to what information should or could be provided by the mediator to the relevant authority. What is important is that any decision over the use of that mediation process is agreed between all those engaged in it at the start of the process.

8.5 The working group believe that an important part of improving relationships around processions and related protests is to develop significant capacity for mediative practice, outside the Local Authority, that could be engaged in processes throughout the year. There were relevant case studies in Northern Ireland that should be examined. In addition, we are aware of ongoing work from the Centre for Good Relations in Glasgow that might be built upon.

8.6 We wish to underline again that resources spent around these practices could save money in policing in future years. Experience in Derry/Londonderry provides a clear example of this.



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