Official Report (Hansard)

Assembly Business

Private Members’ Business

Parades Commission: Determination of 9 July 2013

Written Ministerial Statements

Regional Development: Narrow Water Bridge Order (Northern Ireland) 2013 and Newry River (Diversion of Navigable Watercourse and Extinguishment of Public Rights of Navigation) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013: Decision to Proceed to Make Bridge Orders

Environment: Review of the Operation of PPS 21 ‘Sustainable Development in the Countryside’

Environment: High-volume Hydraulic Fracturing

Environment: Waste Crime: The Threat of Criminality and Organised Crime

 

Assembly Business

 

Mr P Ramsey: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very hot in the Chamber today, and I sense that it might get a little hotter. Is the Speaker minded to relax the rules on the wearing of jackets?

 

Mr Speaker: Yes. If Members wish to remove their jackets, of course they may.

 


Private Members' Business

 

Parades Commission: Determination of 9 July 2013

 

Mr Speaker: Order. Having been given notice by not fewer than 30 Members under Standing Order 11, I have summoned the Assembly to meet today for the purpose of debating the motion that appears on the Order Paper. The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to two hours for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose the motion and ten minutes to make a winding-up speech. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer will have 10 minutes to propose the amendment and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

 

Before we proceed, I remind Members of the need to moderate their remarks today, particularly in view of the heightened tension at this time. It is the responsibility of Members to set standards of mutual respect and understanding, and I remind you of the standard of debate that I expect in the Chamber.  I understand that Members will wish to express their views forcefully and engage in robust debate: that is accepted in any elected institution.

 

Members will know that there are a number of investigations ongoing in relation to matters over the weekend. They should be careful not to say anything that might impact on any case that might come before the courts. If that is clear, let us move on.

 

Mr Eastwood: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you make a ruling on whether members of the loyal orders will have to declare an interest in this debate? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order. It is a matter for Members to declare their interest. It is a matter for the whole House.

  

Mr P Robinson: I beg to move

 

That this Assembly notes the lawful but illogical determination issued by the Parades Commission on 9 July 2013 in relation to the application by the three Ligoniel Orange lodges for a parade in Belfast on 12 July 2013; further notes the consequences of the determination and its outworking in that attempts to build a shared future have been harmed by the actions of those who oppose the concept of sharing space and respecting cultural identity; and calls not only for the rule of law to be upheld but also for respect and tolerance to be shown for everyone’s cultural identity.

 

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I share your view that the debate should be carried out in a measured way, given the tenseness and volatility of the situation. 

 

I have to say that the motion that we are debating was tabled a week ago.  If we were to table a motion today, there would be some additional elements to it.  However, I do not see the importance of the debate lying in the words of any motion or amendment.  It is an opportunity for elected representatives to have their say, to try to bring calm to the situation, to express a condemnation of violence, to recognise that the law must be upheld and, I hope, to show a commitment to moving the situation beyond where it is at present and trying to resolve the issues.  I hope, if I have time, to mention the all-party group that will be chaired by Richard Haass.

 

I start with the Parades Commission determination, and I suppose that there were many of us who couched our words in the run-up to the Twelfth between placing hope and concealing expectations of might happen, because we have had experience, such as in the previous year, of what could happen.  In the previous year, there had been a strange — some would say "foolish" — determination by the Parades Commission that required the Orange lodges that would normally have taken that route to be there in a time which, I suspect, Mo Farah could not have matched on foot from the field.  Yet, in spite of the determination that was made, the Orange Institution did try to resolve the difficulty that those lodges faced.  It sent its officers by transport, they walked the route home, and they did so in a peaceful and dignified way, keeping the Parades Commission determination.  What followed?  A mob under the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) banner came up the road and rioted against the police.  Then the weapons were brought out, and fire was upon the PSNI.

 

Given that set of circumstances, one might have assumed that, if the Parades Commission were to look at the parade itself, there could only be one outcome that it could reach: you should reward those who kept the determination, and you should punish those who did not.  Yet what did the Parades Commission do on this occasion?  Directly the opposite.  It rewarded those who breached its determination — those who rioted and opened up gunfire on the police — and it punished those who kept the determination, although it had been a difficult determination to keep.  In those circumstances, I do not believe that the Parades Commission could come out with any credit for the determination that it arrived at on this occasion. 

 

So I set myself the task of finding out what were the rules of procedure that the Parades Commission would follow.  One might assume, as with any quasi-judicial body, that the decision would have to be taken on the basis of the evidence surrounding the parade in question.  It is clear that that is not what happened.  The Parades Commission took its decision for political reasons, not party political reasons — I do not accuse it of that — but political reasons.  It has an agenda, which is that, first, it wants the Orange Institution to engage with it — people will have a view on whether it should or should not — and, secondly, it wants the Orange Institution to engage with local residents.  It will take its decisions on the basis of how it can further its agenda, as opposed to what is right and wrong in the particular circumstances of any parade.

 

I think that the Parades Commission got it completely wrong.  I do not believe that it has the respect and credibility within the community to continue in being, but, then, I have believed that for many, many years.  Indeed, I believed it so much that I expended political capital at the time of the policing and justice negotiations in negotiating an alternative to the Parades Commission.  This morning, I heard Mervyn Gibson indicating that that alternative was turned down by the Orange Institution because of party political issues.  It is not for me to go into that matter, but the clear evidence is that it was defeated in the Grand Lodge by a very small majority.

 

When something is defeated in the Grand Lodge, I expect that they might come back to us and say, "Look, we do not like this aspect of it.  Here is a suggestion as to how it might be changed" or "Here is an alternative altogether".  I think that that is the space that we have to get into, and I was glad to hear the County Grand Officer this morning indicating that they are looking at alternatives.

 

I put it to the Orange Institution, as I do to every party in the House, that there is now an all-party group set up with the purpose of agreeing an alternative to the Parades Commission.  Let us see whether we can get that alternative.  Let everyone engage with Dr Richard Haass and the all-party group.  Let those who are invited to take part in the all-party group do so, because we have indicated in the remit of the group that it can bring people from outside into its membership.  I trust that there will be willingness on the part of all representatives of the community and the political parties to take part in the all-party group and to try to get a resolution.

 

I indicated that we would have added some elements to our motion had we been writing it today rather than a week ago.  Quite clearly, those would be in relation to the violence that occurred.  I honestly do not believe that anybody in this society can condone or be silent on violence in our community.  It has dogged our community for generations, and it must come to an end.  Therefore, it is very clear that the one message that the community will be waiting to hear from the Assembly is a clear condemnation of violence and a requirement for people to stand by the rule of law.  I do not think that anybody who takes a ceremonial sword to the head of a police officer can honestly find anywhere more suitable to be than in prison.  There is no excuse for anybody carrying out what was an attempt to murder or at least to seriously injure a police officer.

 

I also recognise that many other police officers and citizens were injured.  Many people who were there for the spectacle of the parade and had no part in the violence were injured.  Of course, I include my colleague Nigel Dodds, who was trying to calm the situation but ended up a victim of violence.

 

The one thing that I will say something about is the shared future.  We have a very clear vision of the kind of future that we want to see for Northern Ireland, where the people of Northern Ireland can live, play and work together.  That is the vision that, I think, any sensible person would have of how Northern Ireland should grow.  However, a shared future must be shared with everyone.  It is not a shared future without the Orange Institution.  It is not a shared future without the loyalist bandsmen and bandswomen.  It is not a shared future if you cannot share a road or a street.  It is not a shared future if you have to share somebody else's ideology before you can have that future.  So let us be very clear that the shared future must be one that the whole community can feel part of and one in which they feel that there is some — yes, that word — equality in the sharing.  I say this: we will look at the proposals that have been going out and about over the past number of months, indeed years, about a shared future to ensure that that sharing is for everybody in our society and not just some.

 

I will end, in the last one and a half minutes or less, on the basis of what we do going forward.  The deputy First Minister and I brought in the leaders of the other parties.  We agreed that the person most suitable to chair the all-party group dealing with parades, flags and the past was Dr Richard Haass.  He was our first choice, and he has accepted.

 

A measure of his commitment is that the first thing that he said to us was, "Look, I'll do it, but I do not want any recompense."  So he is committed to the task and is coming over this week to speak to people.  It is vital that we all commit to making it work.  We may not get overall agreement on all three matters, but we must make progress on all three.  That also applies to those who might be regarded as the stakeholders as we move forward.

 

12.15 pm

 

So let there be a commitment, and let us not hear, "Now it is up to the politicians".  In 2010, the politicians brought forward a set of proposals.  If somebody has proposals for how that might be changed, let us hear them.  If they have a better alternative, let us hear it.  Let us start our all-party group by trying to get a resolution to the problems that have dogged our society, that have been seen in the violence on our streets —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is gone.

 

Mr P Robinson: Let us give a very clear message that we want calm in our community, condemnation of violence and everyone committed to the rule of law.

 

Mr G Kelly: I beg to move the following amendment:

 

Leave out all after first "notes" and insert

 

"the determination issued by the Parades Commission on 9 July 2013 in relation to the application by the three Ligoniel Orange lodges for a parade in Belfast on 12 July 2013; supports the Parades Commission’s efforts to bring about a resolution to contentious parades; condemns unreservedly the orchestrated attacks on the PSNI and the community in the past few days which arose as a direct consequence of the refusal by the  Orange Order to respect the Parades Commission's determination; supports the PSNI in its task of bringing forward those responsible for prosecution; recognises that the building of a shared future requires mutual respect for the differing cultural identities; calls for respect and tolerance to be shown for everyone's cultural identity; and further calls for immediate dialogue between parade organisers and the local community in any area where there is a contentious parade with a view to securing a resolution to the issue."

 

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I listened to the First Minister and found that, of course, there were things that I disagree with him on, but he also said things that I agree with, and maybe we will touch on that.

 

Since the determination was made, there has been a lot of rhetoric and a lot said, much of it perhaps not helpful, on both sides.  I heard terms such as "cultural apartheid", and I wonder about the people who used them, because I do not remember them ever arguing against apartheid in South Africa, and they knew what they were talking about at that time.  There was talk about "cultural war", and we went back to the "no surrender" view.  There was talk of punishing the Alliance Party because it was, supposedly, too big for its boots.  There was talk of defeating republicanism and getting rid of the Parades Commission, although, as Peter Robinson pointed out, quite rightly, he has said that from the beginning, so that is not new either.  Illegal flag protests and marches were thanked for waking up a section of our community. 

 

A lot more has happened.  Again, as Peter Robinson said, there were vicious and sustained attacks on the police — indeed, on people within the community, too — over a period.  The Orange Order cannot dissociate itself from those attacks because it was quite obvious that Orange Order people were involved.

 

Mr Humphrey: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr G Kelly: I will not, at this time.

 

It was clearly planned.  People talk about whether there was a plan or not.  That was argued out, but bringing the type of crowd that was brought to Twaddell Avenue was clearly planned.  There is also a notion that it was inevitable; I do not think that it was.  Certainly, once those people were brought there, it was made inevitable.

 

There was also a pipe bomb attack from the republican/nationalist side.  I absolutely and utterly condemn the cynical use of an explosive device to try, in the first instance, to attack, injure or kill police officers.  Two young children were also very close to the seat of that explosion.  It needs to be condemned absolutely and outright.

 

Likewise, there has been a series of blast bomb attacks and petrol bomb attacks, in north Belfast and in the Short Strand.  I believe that they were thrown against police officers but into the Catholic Short Strand area.

 

Mr Lyttle: I thank the Member for giving way.  Will the Member confirm that his condemnation extends to all violence, including attacks on parades and their supporters?

 

Mr G Kelly: Absolutely and without equivocation.  In fairness to my colleague opposite, the DUP has an amendment in, whereas other amendments were refused.  That is why I allowed the Alliance Party Member to intervene. 

 

So let us not be equivocal about the condemnation of violence.  However, I noticed, and I think that I am right in saying, that the DUP delegation that met the PSNI the other day was entirely made up of members of the Orange Order.  Of course, the Orange Order has refused to talk to people, yet its members in here talk to us all the time.  So the question is this:  why will they not speak as Orange Order members outside the Assembly when, in fact, when they are acting as politicians, they will?

 

I do not want to get into a series of "whataboutery".  Maybe there will be things said during the debate that need to be said.  In the DUP motion — Peter Robinson went at it fairly substantially at the end of his contribution — and in the media, there is talk about a shared future.  I am absolutely up for it, and I agree with Peter Robinson that the Orange Order, the residents and everybody else in our society have to be part of that future.  No one anywhere is arguing against that, but we have to define what that is, which also calls for talks.  I argue that it has to be based on equality, which, again, was a term used by Peter Robinson, and parity of esteem, but we have to define that as well.

  

I have to say what I am not up for.  I am not up for sectarianism or racism, no matter where it comes from, whether it is the nationalist side, the unionist side or anywhere else.  I am not up for holy statues appearing on bonfires.  I am not up for effigies of worker priests — people who are very well respected — being part of that, if that could be described at all as culture.  I am not up for anti-Catholic songs outside Catholic chapels or, indeed, any anti-religious song outside any place of worship. 

 

I want to deal with a couple of myths or perceptions, as opposed to reality.  There is no republican war on the cultural identity of Britishness, loyalism or anything else.  I think it is believed by a wide range of people because it is peddled by people in positions of leadership in unionism and the Orange Order who should know better.  It is a fact that 95% — we go back to last December — of all emblems and regalia in the City Hall are pro-British, yet the city is almost at a 50:50 ratio between nationalist and unionist.  We have to talk about not just Britishness but Irishness.  Where is the respect for Irishness?  Where is that equality and parity of esteem?  We need to define it, and we need to do so better than we have up to now.

 

The Parades Commission was accused of sectarianism, which was another myth, and it was accused of succumbing to so-called dissident violence.  Let us just deal with that for a minute.  If it was succumbing to that, why did it not do so 15, 12, 10 or eight years ago?  That accusation has been made year after year.  Why, all of a sudden, has it succumbed to it, when, in fact, we know that, every single year, especially this year, loyalists were threatening mayhem?  We got it from the unionist community, with threats of Armageddon, doomsday and all the rest, yet the Parades Commission did not succumb to those threats of violence. 

 

When you say that community relations are damaged by not allowing the parade to pass, surely this should be said:  do they not believe, or is there not some notion, that those parades and the actions that happen during them, which is perhaps more important, are doing damage to community relations with the nationalist areas and have been doing so for many, many years?

 

On 12 July alone, we had, I think, 550 Orange parades.  Of those, there was a small handful that were contentious.  Is it not sensible to say, "Let's sit down, talk this out and come to some sort of resolution on those issues."?

 

Mr Clarke: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr G Kelly: No, I will not, because your party tabled the motion, so you will have plenty of time to talk.

 

The inevitability of violence is also a myth.  What happened was that predictions of doomsday, Armageddon and loyalist threats were peddled, and people used language that perhaps made it inevitable on the spot, but violence was certainly never inevitable for 12 July.

 

I do not know whether it is a myth — I would like to know — that the Orange Order suspended protests.  I want to know whether that is a myth because, immediately after them being suspended, we had the Orange Order marching up into Twaddell Avenue instead of Woodvale.

 

In coming to a close, I ask:  where to next?  Mervyn Gibson, who is the chaplain of the Orange Order and has been very vociferous over the past few days, said, in the end, that he was ready for talks.  He said that he is open to talks.  I hope that that means that the Orange Order is open to talks.  Peter Robinson talked about Richard Haass, and that is an opportunity for us to go ahead.  I do agree with him about 2010:  it was at the last minute.  Let me say it:  we were told that it was the Ulster Unionists who brought the thing to a close and would not allow it to go ahead.  So let us have face-to-face talks.  There are bigger issues —

 

Mr Allister: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr G Kelly: No, I will not. 

 

Bigger issues are dealt with than the ones that we are dealing with here.  Dialogue is that the core of that.  To allow for that type of atmosphere, I argue that we should pull back the protests, at least from the immediate area around interfaces, because they are intimidatory and counterproductive.  If possible, the protests should be removed for a period so that talks can take place.

 

Mr A Maginness: First, I concur with the First Minister and join him in condemning the violence that has taken place.  I believe that it is right and proper that we do that.  I question his questioning of the Parades Commission decision on Ardoyne.  I think that it is unhelpful for the First Minister to be so blunt and so critical of its decision. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr A Maginness: I think that the Parades Commission made a sensible decision in all the circumstances.  It was —

 

Mr Humphrey: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr A Maginness: I will take your point in a minute. 

 

The decision was, effectively, a compromise, and it was that the Orange could march down the Crumlin Road on the morning of the Twelfth but was not permitted to march up again.  That, I believe, was, in essence, a good compromise to try to resolve the situation this year.  It is wrong for us as politicians to undermine the Parades Commission by the sort of overt criticism made by the First Minister.  

 

I will take your point.

 

Mr Humphrey: I am grateful to the Member for giving way.  The Member represents the constituency of North Belfast, as I do.  On 12 July last year, he will have witnessed republicans coming out on to the Ardoyne Road, attacking police and Twaddell Avenue, setting fire to a car and pushing it into police lines, and then firing automatic weapons at the police, trying to murder police officers.  How does he possibly reach the conclusion that this was a compromise?  This was the Parades Commission rewarding people who were involved in violence and evil.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has a minute added to his time.

 

Mr A Maginness: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

 

Let me say that this was not rewarding anybody; it was an approach by the commission based on an analysis of the situation and work done over the year.  It was, effectively, a compromise to try to bring two sides of a divided community closer together.  We know that there were discussions between the Orange and the community in Ardoyne, and that is to be welcomed.  Those discussions should be renewed as soon as possible because we cannot continue to inflict self-harm on ourselves and the community in North Belfast ad infinitum.  There comes a point when we need to grasp the problem and try to resolve it through local resolution.

 

The First Minister said, quite rightly, that the Richard Haass process will be helpful, but that alone will not solve the situation in Ardoyne, where a local resolution is required.  I believe that that can be achieved, if only there were the political support, particularly on the unionist side, from which it has been faltering and not good over the past number of years.  I believe, however, that if you put your support behind local resolution, it can take place. 

 

The people of Ardoyne have suffered too much over too many years.  They have suffered triumphalism, and they have suffered sectarian abuse.  There is a whole history of the people of Ardoyne bearing the brunt of abuse.  They deserve some consideration, and they deserve liberation from the tragic past.  I believe that we, as politicians, have a duty to do that.  The Chief Constable said, quite rightly, that there must be dialogue.  The Chief Constable said, quite rightly, that the Orange acted recklessly.  The Chief Constable, I believe, is urging us, as politicians in the Assembly, to get round the table and thrash out an issue that has blighted North Belfast for so long.

 

I believe that, if we resolve the issue of parading in Ardoyne, north Belfast will blossom.  North Belfast has been blighted by sectarianism and hatred for too long.  I think that there is an opportunity, despite all of the violence and all of the ill will and turmoil that we have experienced over the past number of days.  I believe that there is still that opportunity, and I know that the talks between the Orange and the residents were carried out in a respectful manner.  There was goodwill there, and there was even some good humour.  That provides a basis for people coming together to try to resolve this problem.  All of us in the Assembly should back that.  It is necessary for us to do that.  If we do not, then, next year, it will come back to haunt us, and, next year, there may well be further violence.  If you were to go up the Crumlin Road every year —

 

12.30 pm

 

Mr Speaker: Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

 

Mr A Maginness: — and cut an artery and do that on a constant basis year after year, do you not believe that you would, ultimately, destroy yourself and bleed to death?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is gone.

 

Mr A Maginness: That is what has happened to our community, so let us together unite and try to resolve this situation.

 

Mr Nesbitt: I support the motion.  It is a motion that ends with a call for:

 

"respect and tolerance to be shown for everyone’s cultural identity."

 

I certainly support that, and I would go further in that I would love us to demonstrate a spirit of generosity from one side to the other.  How can we have a shared future worth buying into if we do not demonstrate the spirit of generosity from one to the other?

 

I understand that, last week, a religious icon was stolen and placed on an eleventh night bonfire.  I will make it clear that that was not done in my name.  I deplore that act.

 

Mr Humphrey: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Nesbitt: In a moment, Mr Humphrey.

 

I deplore that act, and I acknowledge the clear hurt that will have been caused in the Catholic community.  I understand that there was some sort of gallows on a bonfire that has been taken as a reference to a well-liked and popular priest who took his own life recently.  That was not done in my name, and I acknowledge the deep hurt in the Catholic community over that.

 

I deplore all sectarian acts, including the attacks by nationalists on Orange halls that have taken place recently and the burning of the Irish national flag.  I am not the only Member of the House or the only Member from this side of the House who was in Dublin on Sunday and stood respectfully for the Irish national anthem at the national day of commemoration for the Irish men and women who lost their life in past wars or on service with the United Nations.  I was in northern France, at Guillemont, on 1 July this year when the Orange Order laid a wreath for those who died in the 16th (Irish) Division and stood respectfully for the Irish national anthem.  So, it can be done, it is done on occasion, and it should be done.

 

Mr Humphrey: I thank Mr Nesbitt for giving way.  I will provide some clarification on the point that he made about the icon.  Last night, I spoke to the gentleman who returned the icon to Father Gary Donegan at Holy Cross chapel.  The icon was thrown into the bonfire at Lanark Way by people from Divis in the lower Falls, and the gentleman — [Interruption.] It is factual.  I spoke to the gentleman who returned it, and he took it to Gary Donegan.  That was the conversation. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr McDevitt: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  We enjoy a certain degree of privilege in the House, but we do not enjoy the right to be so unfetteredly arrogant, abusive and insulting. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr McDevitt: Nor do we enjoy the right, Mr Speaker — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr McDevitt: — to go against what was published — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr McDevitt: — on the front page of a local newspaper, which is a fact.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member now has it on the record.  Let us leave it and move on, but let us not abuse points of order.  I feel that that is exactly what may be happening.  Let us move on. [Interruption.] Order.

 

Mr G Kelly: On that, I must clarify the situation.  Mr Humphrey says that it was thrown on the bonfire: could he then explain how, in the photographs, the statue is sitting upright on a plinth?  You are making this up as you go along. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us get back to the motion that is before the House.  The Member has a minute added to his time.

 

Mr Nesbitt: Thank you, Mr Speaker.  Even though it is not in the motion, I condemn all the violence and unlawful activity over the past number of days.  I regret very deeply the attacks on the police from all quarters.  I stood on the Woodvale Road on Friday night.  It seemed to me that there was a lot of confusion.  The police did not know what to expect from those who were coming up the road, and, among those who came up the road, there was confusion about what they were supposed to do, particularly the Orangemen who thought that they might be able to protest and then take off their collarettes and walk in single file up the pavement to return home.  They had no idea how they were supposed to get home.  My conclusion is that it could simply have been handled a lot better and that the violence was not inevitable.

 

The underlying anger and tension were inevitable because of the Parades Commission determination.  This morning, it has been called a compromise.  Well, what was it last year when it was a 4.00 pm determination for the return journey?  Was that a bad compromise that needed a better compromise this year?  It was a bad determination.  "Determination" is a key word in the whole process, because there is a clear and deeply held perception in the community that, among those who signed up to the political settlement, a settlement that upholds your right to consider yourself Irish or British — it is your choice — but within the context that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, there are forces that are determined to ensure that, even though Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, you will not know it, because every trace and vestige and symbol of Britishness will be removed bit by bit, slowly, as part of a long, cultural conflict.  Mr Kelly says that that is not the case, but I remember the words of Gerry Adams, when he was talking about Drumcree all those years ago.  These things do not happen overnight.  Sinn Féin are long-term, strategic thinkers, and there is a perception that that is the strategy.

 

"Croppies" — [Interruption.] I am sorry if this is very amusing to members of the SDLP — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.  Order.

 

Mr Nesbitt: — or to Mr Dickson, who seems particularly amused.  "Croppies lie down" was a very popular expression in these parts some time ago.  It was wrong; it was a bad sentiment, and it did not work.  "Proddies lie down" will not work either.  We need mutual respect, and I commit our party to working in the talks that will be chaired by Richard Haass.  What we need is an overarching policy, a framework within which parades can be agreed in future.  We are now being accused by the First Minister of being responsible for 2010 falling down.

 

Mr Speaker: Will the Member please bring his remarks to a close?

 

Mr Nesbitt: I say to him, "In 2011, you got the votes, you got the mandate, so, you govern and stop blaming the Ulster Unionist Party every time it goes wrong". [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Members must be heard.  Order.

 

Mr Ford: I trust that I will get 10 seconds more, Mr Speaker.

 

Last Friday and since, we have witnessed some disgraceful scenes on the streets of north and east Belfast, and the first thing that I want to do is to express my thanks and those of my colleagues to the police officers who upheld the rule of law in the face of that, whether they were PSNI officers or mutual aid officers brought in to assist them.  There is no doubt that they suffered attacks from both sections of the community at different times.

 

Today, my colleagues and I will support the Sinn Féin amendment, not because it says everything that we would wish it to have said — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Order.

 

Mr Ford: — but because it makes clear support for the Parades Commission as the lawfully constituted body to adjudicate on parades; it makes clear support for the PSNI in upholding the law; it calls for dialogue; and it calls for mutual respect. 

 

Not all Members may be aware of the statement issued by the Chief Constable this morning in which he urged the Assembly to:

 

"condemn all violence, unequivocally support the brave efforts of my colleagues and affirm that all protests must be both peaceful and lawful."

 

I have no difficulty whatsoever in doing that.  I certainly welcome the comments made by Peter Robinson as he spoke to the motion this morning because, sadly, too often in the past few days, we have seen unionist and Orange spokesmen who have been unable to condemn violence without adding a "but" somewhere.  In fact, you get the impression that there are more buts in Orange statements than there are in the ashtray outside a pub.  There really is a need to get away from language about war and cultural war and to recognise what needs to be done to build a shared future.

 

Mr Dickson: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Ford: I will.

 

Mr Dickson: Would the Member also add to those dangerous words the words that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party used in the House?  I understand that he also used them on Radio Ulster today.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has a minute added on to his time.

 

Mr Ford: I am happy to agree with that point.  In contrast to the remarks of Mr Robinson, Mr Nesbitt's suggestion that there is somehow an equivalence between what was perceived by one section of the community as significant discrimination on issues like jobs, houses and votes and the limited restrictions on parading by another section of the community does not seem to me to face up to the reality of what is happening.  Over 90% of the parades last Friday proceeded with no determination whatsoever.  The great majority of those for which a determination was made did not require any significant policing effort.  We are talking about a tiny number of restrictions, and to suggest that that is tantamount to restrictions on a culture is utter rubbish. 

 

The example, I put to you, Mr Speaker, of your beaming face as you walked across Craigavon Bridge, recorded by television, in your lodge — the Londonderry City Grand Lodge — to parade within the walls of Derry is an example of what a shared future actually means.  It is an example of negotiation, of understanding and of seeking to make accommodations.  It has been proven that it can work in Derry, and there is absolutely no reason why it should not work in north and east Belfast as well if people were prepared to commit themselves to it.  There is a place in a shared future for Orange culture, just the same as there is a place for green culture and gay culture and every other kind of culture that we might want to see, and it really is time that people got —

 

Mr Hussey: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Ford: Briefly.

 

Mr Hussey: You talk about culture, and you talk about giving way.  A parade in Castlederg was banned by the Parades Commission, and it had to go to a judicial review.  It was going to an area that was 95% Protestant, and that was blocked by the Parades Commission.  There is no justification for something like that.

 

Mr Ford: Technically, Mr Speaker, no parade was banned by the Parades Commission; it does not have the capacity to do that.  I am not saying that every decision made by the Parades Commission is right, but the Parades Commission is the lawful body with the duty to determine on parades, and it deserves the support of democratic politicians in carrying out its duty. 

 

It really is time that we saw some other unionist and Orange leaders change their mindset and speak a bit more like Peter Robinson did in initiating the debate.  It is time that we heard support for the police with no equivocation; it is time that we heard a commitment to dialogue and not triumphalism; it is time that we saw serious engagement with their neighbours in north Belfast as in other places, not just for a few days but sustained; and it is time that we saw a real commitment to the process that will be led by Richard Haass over the coming months, because that gives us a real opportunity to move away from a sense of "whataboutery" this week and into making a real difference. 

 

A peaceful, prosperous and stable Northern Ireland is totally dependent on us addressing the issues and addressing them seriously this autumn.  We cannot wait for a further problem in the parading season next year.  Recriminations are easy.  The challenge now is to tackle the hard issues that were not well dealt with in ‘Together: Building a United Community’; to deal with issues like flags, parades and the past; to recognise that they are joined together; and to recognise that there are issues that are not easily addressed in the heat of the moment.

 

12.45 pm

 

Those who demand rights also have to give respect to others.  We need to look at how the parading and interface problems, flags, bonfires and the marking out of territory impact on each other.  We need to address why some parades are clearly seen as cultural and religious expressions conducted in good order, while others descend into sectarianism and bigotry.  We need most of all to look at the issue of all the encompassing things that were dealt with by the Consultative Group on the Past and have not yet been addressed, and that is where we badly need an engagement with Dr Richard Haass and his process.

 

Mr McCausland: The first Orange lodge in Ballysillan was formed in 1865 and the first Orange hall was built at Ballysillan in 1868.  For almost 150 years, Orange lodges have paraded on the Crumlin Road because it is the main road into the centre of Belfast.  Now, after 150 years, the Parades Commission has de facto banned the Orange brethren from returning along the Crumlin Road as part of their annual Twelfth parade. 

 

Throughout the years, that road was a shared road, and, even today, it has on that contended section a major health centre at Everton, a public library, shops, a car wash and an ambulance station; all of these.  The shopkeepers are happy to take money from Protestants and Roman Catholics.  Nobody asks when you go in to check in your book whether you are a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, but republicans and nationalists in Ardoyne have sought to sectarianise the road and to claim it as their preserve.  Year after year, there has been republican violence emanating from Ardoyne, and in response to that, the Parades Commission has through the years placed more and more restrictions on the parades, especially the return parade.  It has pandered to republican and nationalist bigotry, it has pandered to the intolerance of the republicans and the SDLP and, especially after last year, it has pandered to dissident republican violence. 

 

Last year, dissident republicans rioted and burned vehicles, while a republican gunman attempted to murder police officers, and then this year, the return parade was banned.  Once again, the Parades Commission sends out a very clear message:  the Parades Commission rewards violence.  That is irresponsible and immoral, and Peter Osborne, Brian Kennaway and the other members of the commission should hang their heads in shame.  Previous commissions were bad, but this commission is the worst ever.  This determination was not only an attack on the Orange Order, it was an attack on the entire Protestant community in Ballysillan.  It has caused deep hurt, and it has damaged community relations. 

 

Of course violence is wrong, and on Sunday afternoon, along with party colleagues, I visited the homes of local people, many of them elderly, who had been affected in various ways by the violence.  Indeed, our party colleague Nigel Dodds suffered directly on Friday night, but it is hard to convince others to refrain from violence when they can say to you, "Violence pays".  Moreover, although republican violence and the Parades Commission stopped the parade, violence will not get it back.  The way forward is by the removal of the Parades Commission.  Northern Ireland needs a new start, a new structure and a new system for the issue of parades; that is a priority.  The Parades Commission is not an impartial body, rather it has been thoroughly partisan and punitive.  Republicans have opposed Orange parades, and they have been aided and abetted by the Parades Commission. 

 

The commission was a product of direct rule from Westminster and was imposed in Northern Ireland at a time when Sinn Féin was ramping up its campaign against the Orange Order, with parades being disrupted, the order being demonised and Orange halls being attacked.  Today, the violence against the Orange Order and Orange parades in north Belfast comes from dissident republicans, but they learned their trade from Sinn Féin. 

 

Forty years ago, on 2 March 1973, an Orangeman by the name of George Walmsley left Ligoniel Orange hall for the last time to go to his home in Glenbank Drive.  George was a quiet man who had served in the merchant navy.  He lived at home with his parents, his father had died just a week earlier, and he was going home earlier that night to make sure that his mother, an elderly woman, was in good form.  He worked as a foreman for the Belfast Corporation and he lived at home with his parents.  As he left the hall, Provisional IRA gunmen shot him dead and another Orangeman who was with him was shot nine times by the Provisional IRA but survived.  It was a brutal murder, and a thoroughly decent man was murdered by sectarian killers.

 

Mr Givan: Does the Member agree that the IRA has inflicted more suffering on the people of Ardoyne than any organisation?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute onto his time.

 

Mr McCausland: The murder of George Walmsley was a brutal murder, and a thoroughly decent man was murdered by sectarian killers.  No one has ever been made accountable for the murder, nor have there been any inquiries.  How did the Parades Commission mark the 40th anniversary of his murder?  They banned the Ligoniel lodges from going home.

 

We hear much of the talk around a shared future, but it seems that republicans in Ardoyne cannot even share a road with us.  We hear much talk from republicans of an island of equals but, as George Orwell put it, some are more equal than others.  If we are looking at the issue of apartheid in South Africa and all the rest, I would suggest to some of those here who are republicans and nationalists that —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr McCausland: — if they are looking for issues of supremacy, they should look in the mirror.

 

Mr M McGuinness: Last weekend was a tale of two cities.  In the city that I come from, we had a totally peaceful weekend.  That came about as a result of a recognition many years ago by all the stakeholders in the city of Derry, including the loyal orders, of the importance of resolving the contention around parades.  I want to pay tribute to the role that you played in that, Mr Speaker, alongside the Apprentice Boys.

 

As a result of that, for many years now the city has been trouble-free.  Last Friday, as part of the City of Culture celebrations, we were very happy that thousands of Orangemen and Orangewomen could come to the city to enjoy their day and do so in a respectful way.  I have to say that they could not have been more respectful, and I am sure that it was very enjoyable for those who participated in it and those who witnessed it.

 

One of the most powerful comments that was made over the weekend came from the City Grand Master of the Orange Order, James Hetherington, who talked about the ability of the people of the city to sit down and talk and find solutions.  We did not need Richard Haass to sort that out; we sorted it out ourselves.  I am very proud of the roles that were played by our Speaker, my party and many others in the city.

 

Therein lies the solution, folks.  As I have said many times in the past, Belfast can learn from Derry, and the failure to learn from Derry has resulted in the mess that we have seen over the past couple of days.

 

I agree with the First Minister that we should all be very careful about the language that we use because we will have to resolve that problem on the other side of this debate.  I take encouragement from the fact that, prior to the Twelfth, people were prepared to sit down to have dialogue and discussions.  I hope that that can be resumed, and I will certainly give it every encouragement.

 

Last Tuesday, the five —

 

Mr Moutray: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr M McGuinness: Yes.

 

Mr Moutray: I thank the Member for giving way.  He makes great play on the importance of dialogue.  For many years now, the Portadown district officers have offered unconditional dialogue with the Garvaghy Road residents' coalition but to absolutely no avail; they have been ignored.  Would the Member be prepared to intervene there and encourage dialogue with the Portadown district officers to resolve a situation that has lasted there for many years?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute onto his time.

 

Mr M McGuinness: I understand what the Member is saying, and I understand that to be the case.  Naturally, I would encourage everybody in contentious situations to sit down and have dialogue with one another and to show respect for each other. 

 

Last Tuesday, the five main parties in this Assembly signed up to a statement, which made it clear that we expected people to abide by the determination of the Parades Commission.  It also called on people to be totally and absolutely peaceful over the coming days.  I was hugely disappointed the following day to see the DUP jump into bed with the Orange Order and to see an effort made by the Orange Order to confront the determination made by the Parades Commission.  As a result of that confrontation, we have seen something like 70 police officers injured and others from every section of the community injured and their lives disrupted.

 

Mr Allister: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr M McGuinness: No, I will not. 

 

So I pay tribute to the PSNI and the role that it played in keeping the peace and in policing the Parades Commission determination.

 

The Orange Order?  I think that the Orange Order has been very badly damaged by the events of the past couple of days.  I also think that it is very badly led.

 

Mr Allister: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Is it a bogus point of order? [Interruption.] Order.  I am not judging the Member, but there are Members raising points of order to score political points.  So let us hear the point of order.

 

Mr Allister: You asked no such questions last week when bogus points of order were raised.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us hear the point of order.

 

Mr Allister: Yes.  Is it in order to point out that while the deputy First Minister moralises and demonises the Orange Order, he was the godfather of an organisation that murdered 300 members of the Orange Order — [Interruption.] — and that he has never condemned those murders or sought to bring to justice one single person for them? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, order.  I ask the Member to take his seat.  That is certainly not a point of order.

 

Mr M McGuinness: I can understand that sometimes people play to the gallery.

 

The big question for me is:  who leads unionism?  Is it the unionist political parties and unionist leaders or is it the Reverend Mervyn Gibson and those people around him?  Anybody listening to his interviews over the past couple of days could not be anything but embarrassed by the contributions that he has made and the excuses that he has made for the despicable behaviour of the Orange Order.

 

The Parades Commission was responsible for the determination but it was not responsible for the violence.  The people who participated in violence are the people who were responsible, and there is a duty and a responsibility on all of us to give our wholehearted support to the PSNI as it conducts the investigations into what has been a disgraceful era for the Orange Order over the past few days.

 

Mr G Kelly: On a point of order, Mr Speaker, is it acceptable to have people in the Public Gallery catcalling or applauding during this debate?

 

Mr Speaker: Order, order.  People in the Public Gallery are very much welcome, but they also need to be very careful in what they say and do in the Public Gallery.  They are certainly very welcome, but there are procedures in this House when it comes to the Public Gallery.  Let us move on.

 

Mr Humphrey: I start by declaring an interest as a member of the Orange Institution, and I am proud to be a member. 

 

Across this wee country of ours, and in north Belfast in particular, we have a very volatile situation.  My contribution here is to appeal for calm and an end to street violence.  The Orange Institution called for peaceful protests. [Interruption.] Anything other than peaceful protest damages our cause.  Violence is wrong and it must stop. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: I apologise for interrupting the Member.  I am suspending the sitting for a few moments.  I ask Members to please leave the Chamber.

 

The sitting was suspended at 12.59 pm and resumed at 1.04 pm.

 

Mr Speaker: I ask Members to take their seats.  Order.

 

Mr Humphrey: As I said before, we have a very volatile situation in Northern Ireland, particularly in my constituency of North Belfast.  I appeal for calm and an end to street violence because the Orange Institution called for protests but said that those should be peaceful protests.  Any other protests, other than peaceful protests, damage our cause.  Violence is wrong and must stop, and our community is being hurt and young people's lives are being destroyed.

 

There is real and palpable anger in my community at the decision of the Parades Commission with regard to the Ardoyne determination.  As I said earlier in my intervention, last year, republicans breached the determination on the numbers of people that they brought on to the streets.  They rioted, attacked Twaddell Avenue, set fire to cars and pushed them into police lines and fired automatic gunfire at the police.  By contrast, the Orange Institution, as the First Minister has said, complied with the determination and returned by 4.00 pm.  The order's reward for its return and its flexibility was violence and evil being rewarded by the Parades Commission and republicans getting their way. 

 

The Parades Commission was never the solution, and it is most certainly now part of the problem.  It is a relic of direct rule and, frankly, the Parades Commission must go.  The unionist people of this city and across Northern Ireland are angry at what they see as the erosion of their British way of life and cultural traditions.

 

Mr A Maginness: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Humphrey: Yes.

 

Mr A Maginness: I thank the Member for giving way.  I suggest that a way of getting rid of the Parades Commission once and for all is local resolution of the problems in Ardoyne.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has a minute added to his time.

 

Mr Humphrey: The talks that happened before the Twelfth were not the first that the Orange Institution was involved in.  It was involved in talks with the parades forum, and the Member knows it well. 

 

Our people believe that the erosion of their British way of life and cultural traditions is very threatening.  The premeditated decision by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance to remove our nation's flag from the City Hall has caused great offence —

 

Mr Ford: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Humphrey: No.

 

It has caused great offence and anger —

 

Mr Ford: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Once again, I remind Members not to use points of order to score political points.

 

Mr Ford: Let me correct a point of accuracy.  That was the premeditated decision of a committee that came from certain members, but not from my party, so it was not a premeditated Alliance Party position. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  It is not a point of order, but the Member has it on the record. [Interruption.] Order, Members.

 

Mr Humphrey: I stand by what I have said.  Community relations in this city have, as a consequence, been totally destroyed. 

 

Of course, that is no surprise given the demonisation of parades, Ulster's unionist culture and the Orange tradition in this state.  A strategy was set out by Gerry Adams in 1997 in Athboy.  He said, and the language is his and not mine:

 

"Ask any activist in the north, ‘did Drumcree happen by accident?’, and he will tell you, ‘no’... Three years of work on the lower Ormeau Road, Portadown and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and in Bellaghy and up in Derry"

 

— that is how you know that these are his words and not mine —

 

"Three years of work went into creating that situation and fair play to those people who put the work in. They are the type of scene changes that we have to focus on and develop and exploit."

 

So this did not happen by accident.  Sinn Féin put people into residents' groups in Portadown.  It installed Breandán Mac Cionnaith there, Gerard Rice on the lower Ormeau Road and Mr Nelis in Londonderry.  You might say that that was a long time ago and things have moved on, but, in fact, the number of areas where groups have sprung up to oppose Orange parades has grown.  Hatred of the Orange culture has increased.  The ultimate manifestation of that hatred is not just opposition to parades but the dramatic increase in attacks on Orange halls.  Between 1998 and 2001, 24 Orange halls were attacked each year.  After the peace process at St Andrews, between 2008 and 2011, the attacks increased to 61 per year:  nearly a threefold increase.  Recently, in my constituency, at Whiterock and Clifton Street, halls were attacked, and, over the weekend, Bellaghy and Stewartstown in mid Ulster. 

 

Sinn Féin must bear a heavy burden of responsibility for this environment that has been created.  In fact, Sinn Féin still runs the show — sadly, now joined by the SDLP in north Belfast.  The new hot spot in Donegall Street is in the city centre, a shared space.  In order to recover the ground lost in places such as Ardoyne, Sinn Féin has created this hot spot, a new flashpoint, with a new residents' group formed only just before the parades of this month.

 

Mr Poots: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Humphrey: I will, surely.

 

Mr Poots: Does the Member agree that those who have created the flashpoint have been fully facilitated in that by the Parades Commission in this instance?

 

Mr Humphrey: I agree entirely, and it is sad to see that when these parades are being blocked and protests are taking place, our Culture Minister stands alongside. 

 

Little progress can be made on parades while the hatred continues.  Talk of a shared future and shared space is empty rhetoric.  There can be no shared future and there can be no shared space if my culture is not respected, tolerated and accepted.  With that in mind, I will be speaking to my colleagues the Chairs of the Culture and Justice Committees to discuss the establishment of an Assembly inquiry to examine the demonisation, intimidation, violence and destruction that has been and continues to be directed at the Orange Institution in Northern Ireland against the backdrop of established international treaties and frameworks for the protection of our culture, heritage and identity.

 

Mr Speaker, I am confident unionist and a proud Orangeman.  I love my country, I love my cause and I love my culture and its history.  Talk of a shared future cannot and will not be realised —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Humphrey: — until all that I cherish is given some respect and the tolerance that I give to others is shown to me and my traditions.

 

Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  There are voices of reason in the Orange Order.  Unfortunately, that was not one of them, to be frank.  We have seen it in Derry, and we have seen it in many rural areas where there have been no problems whatsoever, and that demonstrates that talking to your neighbour works.  People in many parts of the country see no issue —

 

Mr Storey: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr McKay: I will not at this point. [Interruption.] There are some parts of the country —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us not have a debate across the Chamber.  Order.

 

Mr McKay: In some parts of the country, members of the community do not talk to each other, and that is why we have some very difficult situations, but as the deputy First Minister said, we do have a tale of two cities.  You have Derry on the one hand, where all sides are moving forward together on the basis of mutual respect, and you have Belfast, where we saw mass social and economic devastation over the weekend.  It affects not only the community and the economy but the morale of the city to witness what has gone on over the past number of nights. 

 

The Parades Commission has put a focus on dialogue, and it was right, because dialogue works.  This institution is an example of how dialogue and face-to-face talks work in this society.

 

Mr Hussey: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr McKay: I will not. 

 

In his speech in Rasharkin over the weekend, Mervyn Gibson said that this was about defeating republicanism and about cultural war.  What we need is not the language of war but the language of peace.  For some reason, the Orange Order remains many steps behind the rest of society, which is intent on moving forward.  By the Orange Order supporting the present situation, it is tolerating it.  There has been no statement from the Grand Lodge about its members who attacked the PSNI and who rioted over the weekend wearing collarettes.  If that had been any other organisation, there would have been a statement immediately to say that there would be disciplinary action against those members or that they would be — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Order.

 

Mr McKay: — removed from those organisations.  The question that many in the community and many in Belfast have is this:  what is the Orange Order going to do about those members who we saw over the weekend attacking police officers with ceremonial swords and engaging in riotous behaviour? 

 

I hope that something positive can come from this debate, and I welcome the majority of Members who have decided to approach the debate in that manner.  The fact is that we have a small number of contentious parades; some are significant, but they are small in number.  Talks must begin now to find resolutions, and it is not an impossible ask.  There is no good reason why we cannot resolve these situations and remove the potential for them to cause social and economic damage, which is undoing a lot of the work that we have done and that the Executive have done to improve the economy, tourism and people's quality of life. 

 

We need leadership.  We need unionist leadership that has no tolerance for sectarianism and that actually criticises the Orange Order or flag protesters when they create the conditions for conflict on our streets.  Equally, we need leadership to face down those within nationalism and within republican communities who want to use parades to undermine the peace process and to attack police officers, and also those who engage in the disgraceful acts that we saw in Derry with churches and Orange halls being attacked.

 

1.15 pm

 

Mr Storey: I thank the Member for giving way.  Will he accept his responsibility in the agitation and sectarianism in Rasharkin, which is in my constituency?  They have created a republican element that they cannot control.  Remember that he and his colleagues in Rasharkin stirred up the nonsense against the Orange Institution and the Ballymaconnelly band.  Will he say in the House today that that was wrong and should come to an end?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

 

Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  We need to talk.  We should have talked many years ago — in Rasharkin, in Derry and in Belfast — and a lot of these issues would have been resolved.  We cannot have a shared future if we cannot even share a conversation.  That is the crux of this matter because, ultimately, somebody will lose their life if we do not act as politicians.  It is not a matter of people rioting on the streets and politicians here saying that they have no control and cannot do anything — we are responsible.  The Assembly has a collective responsibility to come away from the debate today and ensure that nobody loses their life. 

 

I remember that in my constituency, during the Drumcree trouble, three young children lost their life in Ballymoney.  In the wake of that, Reverend Bingham, who was a chaplain in the Orange Order, as is Mervyn Gibson, said:

 

"no road is worth a life".

 

We should remember that because, ultimately, if people do not act responsibly, and if they do not act maturely in these institutions, sooner or later, somebody will lose their life as a result of the parades situation.

 

Mr McDevitt: Mr Humphrey suggested that the Orange Order was the subject of a campaign of "demonisation", "violence" and "intimidation".  I would like the House to ask where that campaign was in 1996, when the then SDLP Mayor of Derry, Martin Bradley, facilitated conversations that brought Derry to where it is today.  As you well know, Mr Speaker, and it has been said by others, it was another SDLP mayor, my friend and colleague Martin Reilly, who welcomed the Orangemen at the steps of the Guildhall on Friday afternoon — a nationalist mayor in a majority nationalist city welcoming the loyal institutions on their day out. 

 

The Parades Commission cannot be blamed for that success.  The Parades Commission cannot be blamed for the fact that Derry is a different place.  The Parades Commission did not cause those talks to happen.  They happened because people had courage, foresight and integrity and because they looked beyond their narrow, selfish political interest to the shared interest of their city, which is a place they love, a place they care deeply about and a place that I know they really feel proud of this year because it is a capital of culture in the deepest possible sense. 

 

The First Minister, a man whose ministerial Pledge of Office binds him to act in the interests of everyone in this region — everyone, First Minister, not just those whom you want to speak for — suggested to the House that the Parades Commission was the problem and the reason for violence on our streets.  That is as bizarre as someone standing up and saying that umbrellas cause rain.  It is utterly illogical, it is bereft of integrity, and it is the sort of political position that leads to only one place — failure.  The problem with this political position is that if he fails, we all fail.  Such is the nature of the Good Friday Agreement and the institutions betokened to us by the people who voted for it in a referendum that we all need to work, and we need to be capable of enduring a collective endeavour. 

 

The First Minister is right to say that we must find a shared future.  He laid some rightful challenges at the doors of this side of the House about what needs to change for that shared future to be credible and become a reality, but I will lay some challenges back.  In the shared future, there will be no effigies of dead priests on bonfires.  In the shared future, there will be no sectarian or racist slogans on bonfires on the eleventh night.  In the shared future, no flag of my nation or of the nations of those from the developing world whom we claim to welcome as our neighbours will be burned on bonfires on the eleventh night.  In our shared future, there must be no death threats to Members of this Assembly left on a bonfire on an eleventh night.  In a shared future, there must be no Virgin Marys propped up for the entertainment of some particularly sad people. 

 

That is the challenge to which we must rise.  To bring motions to this House about the Parades Commission is to utterly, absolutely and abjectly fail to understand the real challenge that is ahead of us.  Derry can, and yet Belfast refuses to, but why?  Is it because it is just more convenient to blame Sinn Féin or the SDLP or whatever, or is it because people do not want to?  John Hume used to say that the real borders in this island were in people's minds and attitudes; they were not lines on the street that cannot be passed.

 

My appeal to the largest and second-largest unionist parties in this House is to reach beyond the borders in their own minds and to reach into the opportunity of dialogue; to respect the fact that Derry proves that an SDLP-led city will respect every single diversity in this jurisdiction; and to respect the fact that an SDLP-led city will deliver peace to this jurisdiction. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr McDevitt: The question, Mr Speaker, is whether the DUP is a partner on a long journey to reconciliation —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr McDevitt: — or whether it is more comfortable pandering to the prejudices of our past.

 

Mr Copeland: Before anyone asks me, I have lived my entire life in the service of and with faith in the rule of law.  That was evidenced by service in the Ulster Defence Regiment.  Hundreds of my comrades were murdered, blown up or shot, and that was not done by Orangemen.  My wife left school at 18, and one week after we were engaged, almost lost her life when a machine gun was fired at the back of the Land Rover in which she was travelling.  That was not done by Orangemen.

 

Since I came here, I have treated those Members opposite and the mandate that they hold with respect.  I do not believe that, on any occasion, I have said anything that was deliberately contrived to give offence.  If you live in a democracy and you believe in freedom of speech, inculcated in that is the notion that, at some stage, you will hear something that you do not like.  If you live in a democracy and believe in freedom of expression, inculcated in that is the notion that you will see something that you do not like.  When you protest about it, protected by law, you enjoy the benefits of a democracy, but in so protesting, you endanger your own rights in that context.

 

The Parades Commission, whether it be so or not, is perceived as being one-sided and unevenly balanced.  I have attended republican parades and the main difference that I noted was that the drums were behind the flutes instead of in front of them.  However, the symbolism on the drums, were it on loyalist, unionist or Protestant drums, would be seen by any right-thinking person as unacceptable.  There are no AK47s on the drums belonging to the bands that represent east Belfast.

 

Three and a half thousand people gave their lives for us to come here to ensure that it should never happen again.  The responsibility for finding the way forward lies with us all, but that will not come today.  The events on the streets of Belfast this evening will come today.

 

We have a Minister of Justice, and justice and law are two very different things.  In the community that I represent and from which I come, the application of law appears to be being levied against them in a way that is different from the way in which it is levied in other places.  That builds resentment, which, in turn, builds disenchantment.  It did so in the nationalist and republican community for 50 years, but it is building in the unionist community and it needs an outlet.  It needs tolerance and understanding. 

 

The events on the Newtownards Road were different, and I will attempt to relate them to the best of my ability in the time available to me, which will not be enough.  There are lessons that need to be learned down there before we take our people over the precipice.  The truth is that being Orange is as Irish as a pint of Guinness.  It is the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland:  you might not like it, but it is yours as much as it is ours.

 

What harm, given the scale of what has gone on, would there be in allowing people, not to "march", which is a term that I do not recognise, but to walk?  I walked on the Twelfth when I was able to walk, and I paraded on the Twelfth when I was able to parade.  There was no militarism or triumphalism from me.  What harm would there be in saying to those people, "We don't understand why you want to do it, but we recognise it's your right.  You do not have a right to attack us in our homes, and you do not have a right to be drunk in the street, but you have a right to be who you are."?  For as long as that community remains under pressure, it will react.

 

I think of a girl, Paige Barnes, who is 17 years of age and has special needs.  She was arrested for the offence of throwing a plastic glass at the police and was remanded in custody on suicide watch.  She has special needs.  I know, as well as I know that Mr Ford is the Minister of Justice, that that girl did not commit that offence.  Remanded in custody.  Sir, we are in very dangerous times, and the responsibility lies with all of us before time runs out.

 

Mr B McCrea: I grew up in north Belfast and went to the same school, I think, as Mr McCausland.  I have experienced being on the police lines during riots in Ardoyne, and when I saw the petrol bombs and the big fireworks coming in, my impression was of a police network that understood full well what was in front of it.  The PSNI at that time was well informed, had good intelligence and knew what it was doing.  Therefore, I reject anybody who criticises the PSNI for the way that it handles civil disturbance.

 

What was strange then is strange now:  there were not too many other MLAs with me on the lines.  That draws me to a question.  The First Minister said:

 

"Once again it is clear that any truly lasting solution to parades will involve the abolition of the Parades Commission."

 

Does it?  What are the alternatives?  For Orangeism, getting up the road is absolutely necessary, and for republicanism, it is an anathema that it will not let happen.  So how do we resolve the situation? 

 

The problem is not the Parades Commission.

 

Mr Poots: Oh.

 

Mr B McCrea: The problem —

 

Mr Poots: Oh.

 

Mr B McCrea: The problem is the failure of political leadership.

 

Mr Poots: Aye, dead on.

 

Mr B McCrea: If the Minister of Health needs some water, I am happy to get him some. [Laughter.]

 

Mr McCallister: Will the Member give way?

 

Some Members: Mini-me. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, order.

 

Mr McCallister: Does the Member agree that it is incumbent on those who are in the Government, including the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, to remember that they were elected and are there to serve, lead and provide political leadership?  If they have alternatives to the Parades Commission, let them bring legislation forward and move on those issues instead of sitting on their hands complaining.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

 

Mr B McCrea: Thank you, Mr Speaker.  For the record, when we were in the UUP, we did hear that it was Mr Elliott and Mr McNarry who said that they did not want to go with the last alternative — [Interruption.] — and I reject the words of the current leader — [Interruption.] — of the UUP, which were insensitive and inflammatory.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: I feel sorry for the ordinary Orangemen and Orangewomen who had a great day in Londonderry, Magherafelt and all sorts of other areas.  It was in Belfast that we had the problem, and Belfast has to be sorted out.  I have to say to the Orange Order, and I take no pleasure from saying this, that there has been a complete failure of leadership.  You cannot use weasel words, where you say one thing and mean another, and not expect people to react.

 

1.30 pm

 

Mr Agnew: I thank the Member for giving way.  Will he agree with me that, when people say that there has been a lack of leadership in unionism, they are wrong?  There has been a failure of leadership and poor leadership that leads people out onto the streets and leaves them there only to call for them to be arrested later.  When the trade unions call people out on a protest, they marshal it and take responsibility.  The Orange Order's abdication of responsibility for these protests is damaging.

 

Mr B McCrea: I agree with those sentiments.  I look at the Orange Order as good people badly led.  It comes to something when the Chief Constable has to describe people as reckless.  I think that he might have raised some other issues.  I have to say to those listening that it was a complete and utter PR disaster for the Orange Order.  Anybody looking at the images on the screens of people trying to kick the police and of people brandishing police batons will know that all those images are detrimental not only to the people of Northern Ireland and to tourism and all those other issues but to the Orange Order itself.  I will just make sure that there is no misunderstanding: it was sickening, it was disgusting, and it was not in my name. 

 

There is a real problem when we try to conflate Orangeism with Protestantism or Protestantism with unionism or unionism with being pro-union.  When you bring all these people together, you come to the lowest common denominator, and, believe me, the lowest common denominator is not very attractive.  When I stand here and criticise the Orange Order — I am criticising it — I do so with its interests at heart.  It is to say to it, "Can you not please find a way to celebrate your culture, which you have an absolute right to do?".  It was demonstrated how well that was done in Londonderry and in other places.  I have with me a speech that was forwarded to me by Drew Nelson when he spoke to the Seanad in Dublin about the history and the culture and all those issues.  Those things are all to be celebrated.  However, if you are kicking and attacking the police, using inflammatory language and saying that the flags protesters were right when they were wrong, you are doing it out of selfish self-interest and not for the people of Northern Ireland. 

 

We will support the amendment, because it is the right word to be put forward.  I know where it is coming from, but, if you look at the words, you cannot disagree with it.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr B McCrea: Orangeism needs to find a better way forward, because this amount of talk in this language does no one any service.  If you have an alternative to the Parades Commission, come forward, otherwise —

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr B McCrea: — support the rule of law and order.

 

Mr Newton: I support  the motion.  Essentially, the title of the motion, "Determination of Parades Commission", encapsulates the problem.  This is a time for cool heads, but it is also a time for determination to right an injustice against the Orange Order.  Let me, first, place responsibility on the doormat of the Parades Commission for the situation as it is.  Let me also condemn the violence against the police.  It is wrong, but it is also wrong that there was violence against innocent men, women and children who lined the route of the Belfast procession and, at various points, were attacked by republicans.  That attracted no media attention whatsoever, and that is wrong.  The whole story needs to be told. 

 

The Parades Commission has responsibilities, but how can an unelected, unaccountable body that is responsible to no one in Northern Ireland be allowed to make laws that persecute a section of the Orange Order as it seeks to parade, as it has done for generations, past the Ardoyne shopfronts and initially to tell those who support the bands and the Orange brethren that only 100 will be allowed to leave the area?  Having agreed to leave the area, the lodges were denied the right to return home.  That is totally bizarre.  That decision came about even though the Orange Order met the determination of last year.  This year, it was subjected to a bizarre decision that said that it was not getting back at all.  The Twelfth of July is the most sensitive and emotive day in the Orange calendar.  The Parades Commission chose, for the first time ever, to deny the north Belfast lodges the right to return home.  It seemed evident to those sitting outside that confrontation is what was wanted and sought. 

 

The Parades Commission has allowed the republican community to make a stretch of the road a couple of hundred yards long into a no-go area for Orange feet.  There is much concern in the unionist community, and it will have been heightened today by the words of the deputy First Minister, who described the behaviour of the Orange Order as "despicable".  On the one hand, we have a convicted bomber, out on licence —

 

Mr A Maginness: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Newton: I am not giving way.  That person obstructed the police in the conduct of their duty and is still walking the streets, while law-abiding people are denied the right to take a major route back to their own homes.  Minister Ford has a responsibility in this area.  Let me say this: to compare the explanations of the Orange Order to a fag end is insulting to members of the Orange Order, who will stand publicly and make their statement. Comparing their words to a fag end is insulting.

 

Let me move to east Belfast.  Let us be clear: the Protestant community on the lower Newtownards Road was attacking no one.  It was awaiting the return of the Orangemen and Orangewomen, and all they wanted to do was to see their friends and relatives safely home.  We have heard the rubbish, the republican propaganda, that those who attacked the parade from the Short Strand area were just defending St Matthew's chapel, but they just happened to have, at hand, stashes of bottles, stones and paint bombs.  It resulted in a disabled youngster in a wheelchair having to be rushed to safety.  My own son was attacked.

 

Mr Poots: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Newton: I will.

 

Mr Poots: Has the Member any concern about the lack of media coverage of the people who were badly hurt and the bands that were badly attacked on that occasion?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has a minute added to his time.

 

Mr Newton: I agree with the Member.  It looks as though there is a bias.  My son was hit by a bottle coming from the Short Strand as he walked past it.  Junior Orange children had to be quickly evacuated from the area. 

 

Mr McDevitt majored on a shared future.  It is hard to envisage a shared future when you get SDLP members refusing to condemn members of the SDLP who named a playground after a terrorist.  Republicans refuse Protestants — [Interruption.]

 

Mr McDevitt: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  A Member has raised a point of order, and I am listening carefully.

 

Mr McDevitt: Standing Orders require us to be accurate in the House.  For the sake of accuracy, I remind the House that, when the SDLP makes a mistake, it has the courage to apologise.  Has the DUP the courage to apologise today? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order. Let us move on.

 

Mr Newton: It seems obvious that the republican community is trying its best to create a major flashpoint on the lower Newtownards Road.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Newton: It is evidenced by Gerry Adams's words of some time ago that flashpoints do not just appear, they are manufactured.

 

Mrs Foster: With reference to the Chief Constable's request this morning for condemnation of violence from all sources, of course I do that, and I do it wholeheartedly.  I am very happy to comply with that request.  I listened very carefully to the deputy First Minister talking about how it was 'A Tale of Two Cities'.  Of course, it was not 'A Tale of Two Cities'; it was a tale of 16 demonstrations across Northern Ireland on Friday.  All of those, apart from the Belfast incident, went off very, very well.  I pay tribute to Orangeism right across the country for ensuring that, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

 

We have heard a lot about how the Ardoyne area has suffered over the years.  Of course, as public representatives, we want to put on record what has happened to our areas over the years.  In Fermanagh, we have suffered greatly as a result of ethnic cleansing in a campaign that took place there over many years.  We have one flashpoint parade in Newtownbutler.  Despite the fact that the Border Defenders have engaged in dialogue over many years, they still cannot have a parade in their home village of Newtownbutler.  People say that it is good to talk: they entered into that dialogue situation but still cannot have a parade in Newtownbutler.

 

I want to talk about the context of where this all came from.  I think it was my colleague Nelson McCausland who mentioned the Athboy speech or maybe it was —

 

Mr Elliott: I thank the Member for giving way.  Would she acknowledge that, in Newtownbutler in particular, they were talking to residents who lived on the route of the parade long before there was any indication that talking should take place at all?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

 

Mrs Foster: That is right, and that is why it is so disappointing that the Parades Commission still determined that that parade could not take place.  It blows out of the water all that we have heard about dialogue and engagement.

 

We go back to the Athboy speech, and we go back to the street disorder of the mid-1990s when a few members walking behind country bands in County Fermanagh — country accordion bands probably — were seen to be offensive, and we could not possibly have that.  We move to the North report, which brought about the Parades Commission.  That report talked about local accommodation.  Back in 1996-97 — yes, I was involved in politics then — I said that it would bring about a euphemism for no-go and no-speak areas and that we would end up with sectarian ghettos.  Then I hear Gerry Kelly talk on the radio about a Catholic road.  That is not the type of Northern Ireland that I want to live in.  We also heard Mr Kelly refer to South Africa.  South Africa is often talked about in the House.  I refer him to the Goldstone commission, which looked at public order problems in 1993.  I will make a direct quotation:

 

"the democratic process cannot countenance no-go or no-speak areas".

 

Does Sinn Féin agree with that?  If it does agree with it, that means that we can move forward into a shared future.  However, Sinn Féin has to agree with it not only in words but in actions as well.

 

There has always been a fundamental flaw with the Parades Commission.  It was set up as a body to educate, mediate and issue determinations.  So, facilitation and judicial functions were together, and that is wrong; they need to be separate.  Mr Hussey has referred to the Castlederg situation.  I understand that his brother asked to have a meeting about Castlederg Young Loyalists, but it was ignored, and, in a High Court ruling last Thursday evening, Mr Justice Weir said that that was wrong.  What did the Parades Commission say in response?  It said that the judge was wrong and that it was right.  That is the sort of arrogance that leads our people to think —

 

Mr P Robinson: Will my friend give way?

 

Mrs Foster: Yes, I will.

 

Mr P Robinson: Does she see something dramatically contradictory in an organisation that claims that its rulings are not respected not upholding the rulings of the court?

 

Mrs Foster: I heard Peter Osborne, formerly of the Alliance Party, of course, talking this morning with great arrogance about the role of the Parades Commission over the past period of time.  It is an arrogance that exists because it is unelected and unaccountable to the people of Northern Ireland.  I listened as he referred to the impact of a parade on a local community, but nowhere was there an acknowledgement of the impact of a banned parade on the Orange family or the Orange community.

 

Indeed, what the Parades Commission failed to do was deal with the simple concept of tolerance.  In 1981, the United Nations adopted a declaration on the elimination of intolerance or discrimination based on —

 

1.45 pm

 

Mr A Maginness: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  The Member spoke of Mr Peter Osborne, who is the chair of the Parades Commission.  Is it in order for her to criticise him and attribute to him a party political affiliation?  Surely that is not in order. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member is in order.  It is the cut and thrust of debate in the Chamber.  Let us move on.

 

Mrs Foster: The truth is an adequate defence. 

 

In 1981, the United Nations adopted a declaration on the elimination of intolerance or discrimination based on religious belief.  It says that all states shall take all appropriate measures:

 

"to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs".

 

The intolerance of Irish militant republicanism and its inability to accept another cultural identity is the problem here in Northern Ireland.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mrs Foster: We will not move forward until people recognise that there is a need for diversity in Northern Ireland, and that includes the Orange family.

 

Mr Lyttle: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this sensitive issue.  We have had some positive contributions and some very difficult conversations.  I, on behalf of my party, extend the appeal for calm and an end to violence before the loss of life on our streets in Belfast.  I think that what matters most to the people of Northern Ireland now is not who threw the first stone but who will take the first steps towards finding peaceful resolutions to these issues.  That said, we need to hold actions to account.  Some of the language that we have heard from Executive Ministers and, indeed, Christian ministers over the past weekend and beyond was astoundingly dangerous. 

 

The Orange Order must take responsibility for its actions.  Calling people on to the streets and asking for peaceful protest without the means or plan to control that protest is extremely risky behaviour.  Many people, including Northern Ireland Executive Ministers, have consistently intimated that the inevitable consequence of a Parades Commission decision that people disagree with is violence, and that is an extremely dangerous proposition.  I understand that there is widespread frustration and anger in relation to the adage that violence pays.  Let us knock this on the head straight away:  violence has done absolutely nothing for this community.  It is wrong, counterproductive and futile, and I condemn, unreservedly and without selection, all the violence that we have seen.

 

Mr Agnew: I thank the Member for giving way.  Does he agree that saying, "They started it" is not acceptable in the playground, it is not acceptable on our streets and that it certainly should be beneath our politicians?

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

 

Mr Lyttle: I agree strongly.  Over the weekend, we saw social media postings on Twitter from the First Minister and deputy First Minister that were not a stone's throw from the type of behaviour that the Member describes. 

 

I pay tribute to the courage and restraint shown by the PSNI and the mutual aid officers in response to such mindless violence.  I extend my sympathy to all who were injured as a result.  Violence results only in more criminal records, injury and loss for all involved, but that does not apply to those who call people on to the streets and abdicate responsibility when the community and lives are torn apart.  The only way to achieve anything is through peaceful, lawful and democratic action, and I am willing to represent the legitimate concerns of anyone in that context.

 

Mr Bell: The Member speaks of "peaceful, lawful and democratic action".  Will the Member for East Belfast comment on what happened to my lodge as it returned home along the Newtownards Road?  The police have confirmed that we came under a sustained, premeditated attack from the Short Strand.  While on a peaceful, legitimate parade, disabled children were hit with paint bombs, and I had to put junior Orangemen into a minibus, which was driven down a cul-de-sac, because they were coming under sustained attack from a barrage of missiles.  The First Minister showed leadership and condemned all violence.  Should the deputy First Minister not have condemned that republican violence, shown leadership from the republican community and called on it to hand over the names of the IRA members who murdered 300 of my Orange brethren?

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Lyttle: I thank the Member for his intervention.  I have no hesitation whatsoever in condemning, without selection, any violence of that nature.  I only wish that the Member would, perhaps, do the same in relation to all the violence that we saw this weekend.

 

The credibility of many people in institutions has been seriously damaged.  The test of the sincerity of the call for peaceful protest will be how effectively they assist the PSNI with its investigations.  Those who attacked loyal order parades must be dealt with in the same robust and legal manner.  Indeed, this violence has done a massive disservice to the Orangemen and Orangewomen who uphold positive and dignified cultural celebration.

 

What is the way forward?  My party and I believe wholeheartedly in a shared future.  None of us is going anywhere.  We can continue as we are, with all the human consequences and costs, or we can learn how to share this piece of land.  Some people have gone on the offensive in relation to a shared future and said that what we see is more akin to a neutral or an anaemic future.  I wholeheartedly disagree with that, and I absolutely support people being able to assemble, parade and protest.  People should be able to belong, but with that comes responsibility — a responsibility not to denigrate other people's cultures, not to engage in sectarianism and not to demarcate territory in a long-term, intimidating manner.  That is not asking for neutrality; it is demanding decency and dignity from organisations to which both should be second nature.

 

Dr Farry: I thank the Member for giving way.  Further to that, does he agree that all of Northern Ireland must be treated as shared space and that no labels should ever be placed on any street or park?  Although there will be issues to be resolved in how we regulate that, we should understand that no one has a right to claim any territory with a flag or by blocking a parade.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Lyttle: Yes.  I absolutely agree, and I reiterate my call for a stop to the violence to allow the political process that we have through the inter-party working group to take its course and try to find solutions for everyone in Northern Ireland.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is up.

 

Mr Clarke: At the outset, for the benefit of the republican coffin-carrier, I declare an interest as a proud member of the loyal Orange Institution for quite a number of years.  I am glad that that will be on the record for the coffin-carrier to read.

 

My colleague has shown me a tweet sent from here by a Sinn Féin Member.  We have been listening here today to talk of entering dialogue and getting our parades to move forward.  I will read into the record the words of Phil Flanagan:

 

"DUP need to realise that just because in some places the Orange Order engage in dialogue, it doesn't mean they get their way."

 

Mr Bell: There is your shared future. [Interruption.]

 

Some Members: The mask slips. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Clarke: Here, as my colleagues are suggesting from a sedentary position, we have an opportunity to see that the mask has slipped.  Indeed, the mask has slipped, and none of us will be fooled by the rhetoric on parades that they have come out with in the press in the past few days.  This is a token gesture, as if they are going to do us a favour in relation to walking on the Queen's highway.

 

I listened to Gerry Kelly at the outset of the debate talking about 465 parades and the fact that only a small number of those were the subject of determinations.  As a member of the Orange Institution, I do not need to be reminded that their strategy over the past few years has been to work on one particular area and, once they get it parked, to move on to another area.  That strategy, as my colleague said earlier, was played out at Drumcree.

 

Following on from my colleague, Arlene Foster, I condemn outright any violence.  There is no need for violence on the streets, and the Orange Order has been fairly clear.  Members on the opposite Benches do not want to listen to the message from the Orange Order on this matter, but it has been clear.  The Orange Order may have called people to protest, but the Orange Order did not call for violence.  It has condemned the violence, and I join it in that condemnation.

 

Mr Humphrey: I am grateful to the Member for giving way.  He will be aware that I and my colleagues, including Nigel Dodds, tried to calm things down in north Belfast.

 

Let me read to the House a tweet from the former Sinn Féin Assembly candidate from north Belfast, J J Magee, who filmed the events in Clifton Street last year.  At 10.01 on Friday night, he wrote:

 

"Police have told the BBC that DUP Nigel Dodds has been knocked unconscious by a brick thrown by loyalists.  He has been taken to hospital.  Haha."

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

 

Mr Clarke: I thank my colleague for that quote, which shows the rank hypocrisy of some Members on the opposite Benches.  We have listened to them talk about a shared future but they have continued to oppose the culture of the Orange Order and the unionist community.

 

With respect to the recent events and the press, how the media have reported recent events should not go unnoticed.  Although I can stand here and condemn the violence, it is interesting that the BBC and UTV have reported last weekend's events in a biased way.  Eventually, we heard from the Chief Constable about the attacks on some of my colleagues in east Belfast, but we did not get that reported.  We do not get fair and balanced reporting from either of the two media outlets, which is disappointing.

 

I would also like to refer to the language of the Chief Constable and Will Kerr and how they have denigrated the Orange Order over the past few days.  The media do not have all the video footage; there is footage on Facebook and other social media outlets that members of the public have posted.  I am a supporter of the police, but that footage shows innocent people being sprayed by the water cannon.  Those people were protesting in a dignified manner.  It will be interesting to see whether the Chief Constable will come out over the next few days and tell the community what action he will take in cases where his members were overzealous in how they used their power at those demonstrations in which people wanted to demonstrate in a peaceful manner their disappointment at the determination of the Parades Commission.

 

I join others in saying that the Parades Commission should have gone.  I was pleased to hear Mervyn Gibson say this morning on a radio show that there was a solution in 2010 but that, unfortunately, politics were being played.  The politics were not being played from these Benches.  The politics that were being played from here were on finding a solution and an end to the Parades Commission, but unfortunately some Members from unionist Benches sought to oppose that solution.  I was pleased to hear Mervyn Gibson say this morning that he supported the alternative to the Parades Commission.  So, in 2010, we had a solution that would have ended the Parades Commission, but unfortunately some Members on the Benches beside us refused to support it.  That has left us in a vacuum in which we are having to go back to the drawing board to see how we can get rid of this discredited, dysfunctional and useless Parades Commission.

 

If we look at what it did last year with the parade that we are debating today, it set conditions on the parade to make it as awkward as possible for the Belfast members.  The Belfast members abided by the decision, and it is as though the Parades Commission set out this year by asking, "What can we do to go a step further?"

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Clarke: That is exactly what it has done.  Since its establishment, it has done everything to oppose Orange culture in Northern Ireland.

 

Mr Speaker: I call Dr Alasdair McDonnell.  As we are almost out of time, the Member has two minutes.

 

Dr McDonnell: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.  There is much that I would like to say.  I thank those who have been restrained, and I express regret that some have not been as restrained as they should have been.

 

I want to reflect briefly on the comments of the First Minister that the Parades Commission has a political agenda.  It is a view that some are entitled to, but the Parades Commission rulings are the law.  The Parades Commission is appointed by Her Majesty's Government, and whether or not we like some of its decisions, those decisions are still the law. 

 

Violence that we have seen here in the past few days cannot ever be justified:  it cannot be fudged, it cannot be explained away and it must be condemned without reservation.

 

The First Minister again said that a shared future includes Orangemen.  I fully and unconditionally endorse that view, and that has to be put on the record.  If we are going to have a shared society here, it must be all-inclusive.

 

2.00 pm

 

Mr Speaker, I will digress for a moment.  I want to pay tribute to you personally for the outstanding work that you have done in Derry.  I was very proud to see you march on 12 July, and the Minister of Justice referred to that.  You did it with dignity.  The contention in your city has been sorted out, and that is what we want to see extended to Belfast.  It is not a question of suppressing anybody or of being cruel or mean to anybody, but we must get a situation where we can live together.

 

Those who engaged in violence must be held responsible and held to account for their behaviour.  As I said, all violence must be condemned.  The Parades Commission must be respected —

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is gone.

 

Dr McDonnell: — and allowed to do its job.  All of us must unconditionally support the police, even when they are wrong, and they occasionally get it wrong.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  This has been a fairly even-tempered debate, despite the intemperate tone of some of the language.  I am very relieved that most, if not all, Members who spoke called for an end to the violence and for dialogue.  They have spoken about mutual respect, collective leadership, shared futures and the potential for all the parties to get together.  Indeed, Peter Robinson, the First Minister, mentioned the prospect this week of Richard Haass and what, hopefully, that will have to bear.  He made comments about the Parades Commission that I will come back to later.  He also spoke about equality, as did my colleague Gerry Kelly, and we need to define what equality and mutual respect and a shared future are.  It does not mean that we share in sectarian behaviour, and it does not mean that we share in raising tempers and the potential for rioting or trouble.  It means that collective leadership needs to happen.  Collective leadership, for many of us, means putting our head above the parapet.

 

Mr Maskey: I thank the Member for giving way.  Will the Member confirm that, although the big demand from the Orange Order is, as a number of Members have repeated in the House today, the removal of the Parades Commission, that is not, in fact, the solution?  We are talking about people who wish to march, particularly the Orange Order.  The solution to the problem that has been identified is for the Orange Order to engage in direct and meaningful talks with residents of those communities on the basis of respect and seeking to get an accommodation.  Removal of the Parades Commission will not solve the problem.  The problem will not go away with the Parades Commission being removed.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an added minute.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his intervention.  I accept that, and that has been the tone of the debate today, regardless of what position you coming from on this, and there have been many views.  The fact is that the Parades Commission is the only show in town, because there is no resolution between the loyal orders and some of the residents' groups.  Until there are resolutions, the Parades Commission, regardless of whether it is in its current configuration or another, will prevail.  When the Parades Commission makes determinations, there is happiness on one side and unhappiness on another. 

 

I understand the point that Alban Maginness made, because I share it: I believe that the determination on north Belfast was a compromise.  I spoke to some of the residents, as did my party colleague Gerry Kelly and others, around the Ardoyne, Mountainview and Dales areas who were not happy at all.  The maturity and the leadership that they showed in their community, particularly the CARA residents' group and, indeed, GARC, who removed their protest and their parade was, I believe, a welcome move.  It was not a popular move in their community.  I can testify to that.  I honestly believe that dialogue is the only way forward, and it is not us as elected representatives —

 

Mr McNarry: Will the Member give way?

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: No.  Thank you.  I have already taken an intervention, and I have very little time left. 

 

I do not believe —

 

Mr McNarry: You will get an extra minute.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: I already have an extra minute. 

 

I do not believe for one minute that, as elected representatives, we should be a substitute for dialogue with residents.  We should facilitate and support it, but we are not the substitute. 

 

I have also heard claims and accusations made about the cultural war.  I have found some of the comments made to be very offensive.  As William Humphrey mentioned, I am from the Carrick Hill area.  I am there to support the residents.  The calls that the residents of that area have made have been very reasonable.  They are not looking to stop marches or parades; they want respect.  How can that respect be demonstrated?  It can be demonstrated through face-to-face dialogue.  I also want to pay tribute to the Orange marshals outside St Patrick's Church.

 

Mr Humphrey: Will the Member give way?

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: No, thank you. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, Members.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: The marshals tried their very best to do a good job.  I want that on the record, because I think that they did a good job in very challenging circumstances.

 

A Member: Frank Dempsey.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: I said Orange marshals: Frank Dempsey is not in the Orange Order, as you well know. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Allow the Member to continue.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: Let me say this: I do not believe that it is a part of anybody's Britishness to dance outside a Catholic church playing 'The Sash' or to walk a few feet away and sing the famine song.  I do not believe that it is a part of Orange or British culture to spit in a resident's face or put effigies of much-loved priests or religious statues on a bonfire. [Interruption.] I am sure that people in London, Aberdeen and Cardiff are scratching their head, wondering what part of Britishness that is.  Are they meant to identify with that? [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: The best and only way that we can resolve the issues is through dialogue.  I know that Members in the House have competing interests.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: However, we have a responsibility.  It is a collective responsibility for us all to condemn violence, lead by example and not be the loudest voice at the back of the room or the back of the march. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member's time is up.

 

Ms Ní Chuilín: That is not the way forward. [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Wilson: The context in which the Twelfth celebrations took place this year has, perhaps, not been emphasised here today.  Hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the sun, the spectacle and the occasion.  Hundreds of parades went off without incident.  It is a great pity that that aspect has not been identified as readily by the press, which has simply zoned in on the deplorable violence that happened as a result of the Parades Commission's determination in Belfast and the act of aggression — let us make this clear — at the bottom of the Newtownards Road by republicans who attacked a parade that had been given the right to march up that road because they decided that they did not want it.

 

A number of issues have been raised in the debate.  The first is the Parades Commission.  The usual people have trotted out their defence of the Parades Commission, though I have to say that they have very short memories.  Mr Kelly tells us that we should accept the Parades Commission.  I remember that, not so long ago, he supported residents who appealed for a judicial review of the decision of the Parades Commission.  Mr Maginness told us the same: I have heard him criticise the Parades Commission.  We are told by the Justice Minister that the commission is a legally constituted body and therefore deserves support: can you not criticise the decision of a legally constituted body?  People criticise his Department, my Department and all other kinds of Department.  Just because you are legally constituted does not mean and should not mean that you are not open to criticism when you make a bad decision.

 

We now have NI21, the party of the 21st century, which sees the Parades Commission featuring as part of the 21st century.  God help us if we are stuck with it for the whole of the 21st century.  Our objective is to see that the Parades Commission goes. [Interruption.] Even though the shelf life of NI21 might be quite short, we hope that the shelf life of the Parades Commission will be even shorter — and that is saying something.

 

The criticism is not unfounded.  The First Minister laid it out very clearly, and it is based on fact.  The Parades Commission is meant to look at what happened in the past.  Indeed, I heard Peter Osborne saying that this morning: "We look at what happened in the past.  We look at what has been the position in previous years, and we then make a decision on that".  As the First Minister pointed out, last year, the Orange Order was told that it could not march after 4.00 pm, so it broke from the main parade and it marched.  That was the compromise, and it abided by it.  The people who protested were the ones who, after the parade had gone, organised an attack on the police that included guns.  Yet we are told that, on the basis of what happened in the past year the judgement for this year was made.  I think that even the most ardent supporter of the Parades Commission could not defend a decision like that.  It was illogical, it was irresponsible and the Parades Commission, in its arrogance —

 

A Member: Will the Member give way?

 

Mr Wilson: No, I will not give way.  The Parades Commission — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  The Member must be heard.

 

Mr Wilson: The Parades Commission ought to take responsibility for it.  That is why we say that it must go.  Of course, it is not the case that it must go and a vacuum should be left.  This is not a new position that we have taken.  As far back as 2010, we said that it should go and should be replaced.  There was an alternative available, and this is where I have to be critical of the Orange Order: the Orange Order was prepared to take its leadership from a man who, quite frankly, after having destroyed his own party, decided that he would give the same inept leadership to the Orange Order.  The guilty man is sitting in the back row there, and we know — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us have remarks through the Chair.

 

Mr Wilson: We know the reason for it, because a reason was given: it was a political decision.  It was a party political decision: it emanates from the DUP, so it does not matter whether it solves a problem or not, reject it.  I hope that, on reflection, the Orange Order will now look again at the proposal.  Of course, it came jointly as a result of the negotiations that there were when policing and justice came about.  They included the element of dialogue between parties. 

 

The second thing that we have heard talked about today is the shared future, and, of course, it is part of our motion.  I listened to some of the rhetoric about a shared future from the other side, and I think that Richard Haass is going to have a difficult job.  While Gerry Kelly talks about the shared future, Phil the Footer — he puts his foot in his mouth quite often in this place, and he does it outside — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.  Let us refer to Members by their proper name.  Order.  Let us move on.

 

Mr Wilson: He seemed to know who I was referring to anyway, Mr Speaker, so I do not think that I need to worry. 

 

While Mr Kelly talks about a shared future and dialogue and the deputy First Minister is talking about it, he is making it clear that dialogue does not mean quite the same thing as far as he is concerned. 

 

We had the reference to what the Provisional IRA did in the past in a very moving speech by Nelson McCausland.  Forty years ago, the IRA was gunning down Orangemen — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Wilson: Now, it is simply trying to stop them marching.  Whether that is by organising residents' committees, ignoring the attacks from republican areas on the parades or talking of a Catholic road, that is its concept of a shared future.  Mr McCausland pointed out that you have all these public buildings, not a Catholic road.  There was the triumphalism of Mr Kelly who, in one breath in this place, talks about a shared future and, on the news, gloats that Orangemen have marched up this road for the last time.  It does not augur too well for discussions about a shared future if that is the mindset.  I hope that the public rhetoric of Sinn Féin will change when it comes to getting down and talking about what a shared future means.

 

I was going to mention Mr McDevitt — [Interruption.] — and then I thought, "Do I give him any credibility?"  When it comes to a Member of this Assembly who oozes cant and sanctimoniousness, Mr McDevitt takes first prize:  a shared future does not mean, and it does not mean, and it does not mean.  Of course we agree with all the things that he said, but what he failed to point out is that his party is as sectarian as some of those he has condemned.  It does not mean, Mr McDevitt, that you name play parks after gunmen —

 

2.15 pm

 

Mr Speaker: Order, order. [Interruption.] Order.

 

Mr Wilson: It does not mean that you support the release of people — [Interruption.]

 

Mr Speaker: Order, order. [Interruption.] Order, order.  Let us not have a debate across the Chamber.

 

Mr Wilson: I thought that is what the Chamber was for.

 

Mr Speaker: Order.

 

Mr Wilson: It does not mean that you prevent religious services being held in public parks either, as the SDLP has voted for.  Let us not take any lectures from Mr McDevitt or the SDLP about what a shared future means. 

 

The First Minister has laid it out very clearly here today.  We are serious about changing Northern Ireland so that it is a place where we can attract investment and have a normal society.  All that I would say to those opposite who have talked about a shared future is that when it comes to the discussions, let us see your words backed by some actions.  That means that on the Twelfth of July, a road that has been used by Orangemen for a long time, as Mr McCausland pointed out, should be open to them. 

 

The last thing I want to mention is the violence.  We have been quite clear on this:  the violence is wrong, and a lawful determination is a lawful determination.  We have appealed to those who have organised the protests and who, as a result of that, have brought people out on to the streets to think about it again.  I said this at the flags protests and I say it unequivocally again today:  if you believe that your protest is going to finish up in violence, forgo your right to protest because you only do your own cause a discredit if you bring that about.

 

Mr Speaker: The Member's time is almost gone.

 

Mr Wilson: Let us not do anything to encourage violence.  Let us see what the Orange Order can do; it is not just about what politicians can do.  Let us work with the opportunity that presents itself to us over the next number of weeks to see what we can do to solve these problems.

 

Question put, That the amendment be made.

 

The Assembly divided:

 

Ayes 41; Noes 44.

 

AYES

 

Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Mr D Bradley, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Ford, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Mr Rogers, Mr Sheehan.

 

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr G Kelly and Mr McKay

 

NOES

 

Mr Agnew, Mr Allister, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Givan, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kinahan, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr Wilson.

 

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Clarke and Mr McQuillan

 

Question accordingly negatived.

 

Main Question put.

 

Mr Speaker: Order. I have been advised by party Whips in accordance with Standing Order 27(1A)(b) that there is agreement that we dispense with the three minutes and move straight to the Division.

 

The Assembly divided:

 

Ayes 43; Noes 42.

 

AYES

 

Mr Allister, Mr Beggs, Mr Bell, Ms Brown, Mr Buchanan, Mr Clarke, Mr Copeland, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Gardiner, Mr Givan, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Hussey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kinahan, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr McGimpsey, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr Wilson.

 

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Clarke and Mr McQuillan

 

NOES

 

Mr Agnew, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Mr D Bradley, Mr Dallat, Mr Dickson, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Ms Fearon, Mr Flanagan, Mr Ford, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCallister, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Ms McCorley, Mr B McCrea, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McKay, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Mr Rogers, Mr Sheehan.

 

Tellers for the Noes: Mr G Kelly and Mr McKay

 

Main Question accordingly agreed to.

 

Resolved:

 

That this Assembly notes the lawful but illogical determination issued by the Parades Commission on 9 July 2013 in relation to the application by the three Ligoniel Orange lodges for a parade in Belfast on 12 July 2013; further notes the consequences of the determination and its outworking in that attempts to build a shared future have been harmed by the actions of those who oppose the concept of sharing space and respecting cultural identity; and calls not only for the rule of law to be upheld but also for respect and tolerance to be shown for everyone’s cultural identity.

 

Adjourned at 2.38 pm.

  

  

Written Ministerial Statements

 

The content of these ministerial statements is as received at the time from the relevant Minister. It has not been subject to the official reporting (Hansard) process.

 

Regional Development

 

Narrow Water Bridge Order (Northern Ireland) 2013 and Newry River (Diversion of Navigable Watercourse and Extinguishment of Public Rights of Navigation) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013: Decision to Proceed to Make Bridge Orders

 

Published at 4.00 pm on Tuesday 9 July 2013

 

Mr Kennedy (The Minister for Regional Development): A project to construct a bridge at Narrow Water in Warrenpoint is being taken forward by Louth County Council in partnership with Newry and Mourne District Council.  My Department’s role is exclusively in relation to the Bridge Orders and it has no direct involvement in delivering this scheme.

 

The draft Narrow Water Bridge Order (Northern Ireland) 2013 and the draft Newry River (Diversion of Navigable Watercourse and Extinguishment of Public Rights of Navigation) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013, are required to deal with the impact of the Narrow Water Bridge proposal on the Newry River, which is a public navigable waterway, as far as it relates to Northern Ireland. These orders will detail the position, dimensions and operating procedures for the bridge and the reasonable requirements for and amendments to navigation rights that need to be put in place to ensure the safety of the travelling public.

 

Notice of the draft Orders was published in the local Press during weeks commencing 22 and 29 April 2013 and the consultation period ended on 4 June 2013, with a total of 17 letters of objection being received.  The majority of the objections were from the local mussel fishermen or those representing or supporting the fishermen.

 

The main reasons for objections from the mussel fishermen were the loss of navigation rights and the loss of some fishing grounds, arising from the construction of the proposed bridge in navigable waters, the proposed vessel protection systems and proposed extinguishment and diversion of navigation rights; and the restriction of fishing activities resulting from the proposed bridge operating procedures.

 

Following the submission of objections, Louth County Council has had a series of meetings with some of the objectors, aimed at finding an agreed resolution to the objections.  My officials have been fully engaged with the Council throughout this process.

 

A key issue for me in this process has been the question of whether or not a public inquiry is necessary before I move to a decision on the Bridge Orders.  I should emphasise that such a step is only required where I conclude that such a process might add greater substance or clarity to the information available to inform my final decision.  In the context of the fact that the original objections were clearly outlined and well articulated, and the additional dialogue between Louth Council and objectors, I concluded that such a step was not necessary.

 

In addition, I have disclosed the objections to both the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development and consulted with them on issues that could be said to fall within their competence. Neither Minister has indicated any reason why I should not proceed to make the Orders.  The Agriculture Minister also specifically indicated her view that there was no need for a public inquiry.

 

After carefully considering all objections, the further engagement with Louth Council (following their further meetings with objectors), and the input of my two Executive colleagues, I feel that there are no outstanding issues from my Department’s perspective, which would indicate that the orders should not be made.  On this basis, it is now my intention to make the necessary Bridge Orders in relation to the Narrow Water Bridge project.

 

 

Environment

 

Review of the Operation of PPS 21 ‘Sustainable Development in the Countryside’

 

Published at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 16 July 2013

 

Mr Attwood (The Minister of the Environment): There has been a long history to planning policy for development in the countryside.  PPS21 was published in final form on 1 June 2010 following work undertaken by an Executive Subcommittee on Rural Planning Policy and was endorsed by the Executive at that time. It superseded Draft PPS21 which had been published with immediate effect in November 2008, replacing draft PPS14, a very restrictive policy introduced under Direct Rule.

 

Whilst the publication of PPS21 some 3 years ago brought a higher level of certainty to rural planning policy in Northern Ireland following a long-drawn-out period of uncertainty, valid concerns have been raised over its practical implementation on the ground.

 

Early into my role as Environment Minister, several MLA’s made representations to me regarding concerns that some people were not getting the same opportunity to build in rural areas compared with other parts of Northern Ireland. These concerns centred on whether the policy was being applied consistently across area planning offices; and whether some area offices were applying the policy more strictly than others. It would be wrong if the policy was not being implemented fairly in all cases.

 

I listened to these concerns and gave a commitment to undertake a review of the operation of the policy. This Statement is an account of my approach to this work, my interventions and my findings to date.

 

The operational review has been a real time assessment of what is going on in planning offices in terms of the application and consistent interpretation of PPS21. It has been focused on how the policy is being applied in practice. Its aim has been two-fold:

 

• firstly, informed by experiences and perceptions of all those involved in sustainable development in the countryside, to take appropriate steps necessary to ensure everyone is treated consistently; and

 

• secondly, to ensure appropriate flexibility on the operation of PPS21 in line with its content and substance.

 

When I announced the review I made it clear that it would not be a fundamental review of rural planning policy. Furthermore it was never my intent that it should recommend fundamental changes to the existing policy framework of PPS21. To do so would have required an approach outwith an operational review and would not, at an early phase of PPS21, have been appropriate.

 

In undertaking my review I have held discussions on the operation of the policy with a number of key stakeholders: MLAs, Planning Forum members; former members of the Independent Working Group established to examine the issue of non-farming rural dwellers; and rural stakeholders representing farming and environmental interests.

 

I have also taken on board the views of planning staff and of applicants and agents who are most familiar with the actual operation of the policy on the ground. I have considered planning statistics on the number of approvals of single and replacement dwellings since the policy was published.

 

In particular, I took considerable time to examine a range of specific cases in order to satisfy myself that the Department’s approach to the assessment of such proposals was based, not just on proper application of individual policies, but also that it had regard to the overarching aims and objectives of PPS21. This includes, managing growth to achieve sustainable development that meets the essential needs of a vibrant rural community; and facilitating the development necessary to achieve a sustainable rural economy, including appropriate farm diversification and other economic activity.

 

Non farming rural dwellers

 

Special provision for non-farming rural dwellers remains a matter of continued interest, and was also highlighted during the review. In recognition of this, I met former members of the Independent Working Group on non-farming rural dwellers to hear first hand their expert perspectives on this matter.

 

These experts reiterated to me that advice previously provided to the Executive Sub-committee that the term ‘non-farming rural dweller’ is difficult to interpret and define and should not therefore be used to create a special category of planning policy.

 

I am reassured that PPS21 already provided significant opportunities for non-farming rural dwellers to live in the countryside through policy provisions including replacement dwellings; the conversion and reuse of non-residential buildings as dwellings; new dwellings within an existing cluster or ribbon of buildings; development within Dispersed Rural Communities; and a dwelling to met compelling personal and domestic circumstances.

 

Consistency and flexibility were important issues to emerge from the review. Of particular concern were the policies in respect of 6 key areas: dwellings on farms; replacement dwellings; the conversion and re-use of existing buildings new dwellings in existing clusters; developments within gap sites and development in support of the rural economy. I will deal with each of these in turn.

 

1. Dwellings on Farms

 

Through the review I have advanced an approach to promote greater flexibility in relation to the requirements for clustering and visual linkage in respect of siting new dwellings on farms.

 

I took particular note of the concerns raised regarding the health and safety implications of clustering new dwellings with existing farm buildings which was raised by the UFU and others through the review.

 

I have impressed upon officials the need for greater regard to be given to the practicalities of requiring new dwellings to be clustered with an established group of buildings on the farm. For example, I do not expect applicants to be required to access new dwellings through busy working farmyards where an acceptable access can be achieved without detriment to integration.

 

It is also important to note that Policy CTY10 ‘Dwellings on Farms’ already contains important health and safety safeguards which permit an alternative site away from a group of buildings on the farm where this health and safety implications can be demonstrated. CTY10 and, for example, the practicality issue referred to above, and together with consistency in interpretation have produced less issues over recent times than was the case two years ago.

 

2. Replacement Dwellings

I have explored the application of Policy CTY 3 ‘Replacement Dwellings’ with a view to identifying additional flexibility, especially in regard to the assessment of whether the dwelling to be replaced meets the essential characteristics of a dwelling.  One example, where a more flexible approach has been taken relates to a proposal for a replacement dwelling in Armagh area. The structure had long ago been a dwelling however there was no roof and while the 4 walls were intact they were not 100% complete. The structure was also completely overgrown with vegetation internally and externally.

 

Prior to the review there would have been concerns that the structure did not qualify for replacement in accordance with Policy CTY3 as the four walls were not substantially intact. Following staff training provided as part of the review process, the application was re-assessed and a greater degree of flexibility was applied. The Department concluded that on balance the application was acceptable and approval was granted.

 

This demonstrates the value of the operational review. Interrogation of policy, application in real time, training and peer review leading to the right outcome.

 

3. Conversion and Reuse

 

Similarly, I have identified scope for more flexibility in the type of building that may be suitable for conversion to a dwelling or other use, where this would not adversely affect the character or appearance of the locality.

 

Policy CTY 4 – ‘The Conversion and Reuse of Existing Buildings’ permits proposals for the sympathetic conversion, with adaptation if necessary, of a suitable building for a variety of uses, including use as a dwelling.

 

My review highlighted that some Area Planning Offices had been adopting a much stricter interpretation of the policy that required the building to be converted to exhibit some special architectural features. However, this is not a requirement of the policy which states only that the conversion should maintain or enhance existing form, character and architectural features.

 

While the policy gives a range of examples of buildings which may be appropriate for conversion, such as former school houses and traditional barns, this list is not to be regarded as exhaustive and does not rule out the conversion of other buildings if they are of sound construction and can be converted in line with the policy criteria. This message has been communicated to staff through training and the process of peer review. Again, a positive outcome of an operational review.

 

4. Dwellings within Existing Clusters

 

Through the review I have identified the potential for some additional flexibility in how the policy in respect of new dwellings in existing clusters is being applied.

 

Policy CTY2a ‘ New Dwellings in Existing Clusters’ provides for a dwelling at an existing cluster of development subject to identified criteria, including a requirement that the cluster is associated with a focal point such as a social/community building/facility, or is located at a cross roads.

 

The policy does not provide an exhaustive list of what will be regarded as a focal point and in the absence of a community building or facility applicants are free to present other evidence of a focal point within the cluster. This may be some other entity or association that serves as a hub or gathering point in the community.

 

Through the review, I have communicated to officials the need for appropriate flexibility. This will not mean, cluster approval here, there and everywhere.  But approvals will be more consistent between DPO’s and more accommodating consistent with the intention of the policy.

 

5. Ribbon Development

 

There were also issues raised with respect to development opportunities within gap sites. I have identified the need for additional flexibility in how such sites are defined for the purposes of CTY 8 ‘Ribbon Development’, which allows for up to two dwellings within an otherwise substantial and continuously built up frontage.

 

One example, where I identified a greater need for flexibility was a proposal for a dwelling and a garage in one area which had initially been recommended for refusal. I met with the applicant who identified examples which they considered to have set a precedent. I asked my officials to consider how the application of the policy may be reviewed in light of the examples provided. After further assessment officials unanimously agreed that the application should be allowed.

 

Furthermore, when applying the policy officials have been reminded of the need to take account of extant permissions when assessing whether a suitable infill opportunity exists.

 

6. Development in support of the rural economy

 

Through the review I have also been promoting greater opportunity and flexibility to support rural business.

 

For example, an application was received for a dwelling in association with an existing business in one area. The proposal was originally recommended for refusal. However the local Council referred the matter to my Private Office.  Given the nature of the business and the fact that the owner was retiring, a family member was taking over and lived a considerable distance away, I asked officials to reconsider their initial opinion. Permission was subsequently granted.

 

In addition to the areas I have outlined above, other steps I have taken to ensure consistency and flexibility generally include the following:

 

Staff Training

 

At my request, the Department rolled out training for all planning officers on the implementation of PPS21. The training was rolled out to approximately 150 staff. The purpose of the training was to focus on those areas of PPS21 which give rise to different interpretations and to apply a common approach to ensure consistent application of policy across all Area Planning Offices.

 

The training covered each of the policies in detail. It provided examples of proposals which are acceptable and those which are unacceptable when considered in the context of the relevant policy. It also identified areas were there may be scope for more flexibility within the content and substance of the policy.

 

Peer Review

 

I have also initiated a process of peer review of applications already decided under PPS21. The purpose of this is to share best practice and increase consistency between Area Offices. Applications are discussed at the monthly Development Management Working Group and an agreed position is confirmed by the Group. Lessons learned from this peer review approach can be incorporated into the ongoing training programme and issued as further advice as necessary.

 

Rural Design Guide

 

I also published the Rural Design Guide ‘Building on Tradition’. This supplementary planning guidance to PPS21 clarifies and exemplifies the requirements of the policy and has proved to be of great assistance to planning staff in the consistent interpretation and application of PPS21, as well as helping applicants and others understand its policy requirements. I would commend this guidance to all those with an interest in development in the countryside.

 

Review of Occupancy Conditions

 

As part of the review I have looked closely at the practice of attaching personal occupancy conditions to rural dwellings approved on the basis of site specific personal and domestic circumstances which has in some cases created difficulties for applicants in securing mortgage finance. Recently, I drafted and issued a new ‘letter of comfort’ which I have advised the Council for Mortgage Lenders should conclude the problems the CML or its members were creating around this issue.

 

Wider actions to support the countryside

 

Other measures which seek to support rural areas and their communities include:

 

PPS16 ‘Tourism’ which I published in June facilitates appropriate tourism, including development in the countryside. It makes provision in the countryside for tourist amenity proposals that are not suited to an urban or village location. Similarly, it allows for tourist amenity proposals that need to be located close to existing tourist attractions in the countryside. PPS 16 also removes the much criticised tourist needs tests which had applied for tourist accommodation proposals in the countryside making it easier for developers to make sure that their proposals accord with planning policy.

 

• PPS4 ‘Planning and Economic Development’ sets out the circumstances in which permission will be granted for economic development in the open countryside. It allows for redevelopment of existing employment sites in the rural area including for tourism and it allows for expansion of existing employment sites. It allows for small scale economic development on suitable sites on the periphery of existing settlements where there are no alternatives within the settlement.

 

• Permitted Development Rights: The Agriculture industry represents a vital part of the Northern Ireland economy and therefore the elimination of unnecessary red tape to enable the agriculture sector to thrive in an increasingly competitive and challenging economic climate is imperative. With the continuing rise in energy and fuel bills the new PD rights introduced on 30th April 2013 for non domestic micro-generation including solar panels, ground and water source heat pumps and biomass boiler housing and fuel stores, provide farmers with opportunities to benefit from renewable energy technologies to help make savings and reduce running costs in the longer term.

 

Furthermore, legislative proposals to revise existing PD rights by increasing the size limitation from 300m2 to 500m2 for agricultural buildings and introduce new PD rights for anaerobic digestion plant on an agricultural unit were agreed by the Environment Committee on 4th July and will come into operation in August 2013.

 

• Improved Processing Timescales - Over the last two years there has been a huge effort made to speed up the planning process which has positively impacted on processing times for rural applications.  Performance in 2012/13 has significantly improved across all categories of development.  Over the most recent year, the average processing times for Major, Intermediate and Minor categories of planning application reduced by four, two and three weeks respectively compared to 2011/12. In addition, the first year Programme for Government target to process 60% of Large Scale Investment Applications within six months was also met with 72% of all such applications being processed within this timescale. Some of these large scale investment applications were in rural areas and Departmental targets were also met for processing Intermediate and Minor applications.

 

• Renewable Energy: Renewables is another key economic driver for Northern Ireland, particularly rural areas. A key target is the reduction in the number of live planning applications for renewable energy projects.  The number of decisions issued against renewable energy applications increased by a very significant 90%, from 401 in 2011/12 to 762 in 2012/13.  Almost nine in ten (89%) of renewable energy applications were approved.

 

The Department has worked creatively and collectively with key stakeholders to the planning process to ensure timely processing of planning applications and to discuss any areas of concern.  For example, a sub group of the Planning forum has been established to focus on renewable energy applications.  This group is looking at a range of measures to improve decision making for renewable energy project applications.

 

• Agrifood Sector: Agri food is a key economic driver for Northern Ireland but particularly the rural areas. As a result of the recent announcement by the major UK supermarkets to source more of their produce from the UK, it is anticipated that the Department is likely to receive several hundred planning applications in the near future for poultry buildings across the Province. In order to respond to this demand the Department has established a small multidisciplinary team in the South Antrim Area Planning office and is developing appropriate level of expertise within the team. It will also work closely with the industry and all other stakeholders collectively to ensure that the applications are progressed in a fast and predictable manner to maximise this opportunity.

 

Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) - Members will also be aware that I intend to bring forward a single Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) in time for the transfer of planning functions to councils in 2015. The statement will consolidate existing policy provisions, including provisions in relation to rural planning, into a shorter, more concise statement of planning policy. The statement will be subject to public and Assembly consultation.

 

All these measures are intended to create a positive framework that allows communities to prosper and thrive but which also protects the countryside from excessive or inappropriate developments.

 

Planning Statistics suggest interventions have begun to pay dividends. Most significantly the approval rate for single and replacement dwellings in rural areas has improved from 74% in 2010/11 to 88% in 2012/13. I believe that this can be attributed to the implementation of a number of measures such as the role out of training for staff, the ‘peer review’ of applications at a monthly management meeting, and the publication of the rural design guide.

 

In total there have been 8,575 applications for new single and replacement dwellings in rural areas approved since the implementation of PPS21. This represents an approval rate of 83% across this almost 3 year period.

 

Looking forward I believe that the process of planning and local government reform provides a great opportunity for a stronger local dimension to rural planning policy when the majority of planning powers transfer to local Councils. Post transfer the new Local Authorities will be responsible for bringing forward their own development plans with bespoke policies that are more finely tailored to local circumstances in the area, in line with prevailing regional planning policy.

 

In summary, this operational review into PPS21 has both identified and addressed how there can be more consistency, opportunity and flexibility in the application of PPS 21 policies.

 

I believe that my interventions are bearing fruit. PPS 21 is working much more effectively now and I remain more satisfied that it is fundamentally the right policy and enjoys widespread support.

 

My own experience is that the volume of concerns raised to me personally on the operation of the policy is much reduced. Nevertheless, I will continue to keep under close scrutiny the operation of PPS21 in order to ensure that it is properly and consistently applied going forward. This is an update on the operational review. The review is a real time, real life mechanism. It will continue. The issue of a fundamental review, in my view, does not arise, certainly at this time.

 

 

High-volume Hydraulic Fracturing

 

Published at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 16 July 2013

 

Mr Attwood (The Minister of the Environment):The Department of Environment’s fundamental aim is to protect and improve the environment, promote well being, and deliver a strong and effective local government to support a thriving economy.

 

Within my Department the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) seeks to safeguard the quality of the environment as a whole through effective regulation of activities that have the potential to impact on the environment.  High volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is considered by the Agency to be such an activity.

 

As members will be aware, an Australian based company, Tamboran Resources, secured a Petroleum Licence from DETI to explore for shale gas reserves within the Northern Ireland section of the Lough Allen Basin, which is a cross border Basin shared with the Republic of Ireland.

 

I am informed that Tamboran are proposing to use an unconventional gas extraction technique known as High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking for short.

 

I hope that no-one will or would adopt an approach that if gas exists in this form underground, for example in Fermanagh, that it should be extracted. The right approach is to ask: do we want to extract shale gas? Do we need to extract shale gas? Can it be done safely? Would it be done responsibly? These are the fundamental questions against which to judge fracking and to judge ourselves.  A rush to fracking is ill judged. Indeed my approach is to be highly precautionary.

 

Fracking has generated much concern within NI, and around the world, over its potential impact upon the environment, particularly in relation to water quality, air emission issues, seismic impacts, matters of public and personal health and environmental impact to name but a few.

 

In response to these concerns I directed DOE and NIEA to supplement its knowledge of this process through reviewing and engaging with emerging research, studying case studies from other parts of the world and liaising with counterparts in other Environment Agencies in Britain and Ireland, and other countries where fracking is currently proposed or taking place. My responsibility as a Minister is to do so I have been doing so and that has to be the approach in the future.

 

Specifically:

 

• DOE/NIEA represents NI at the European level on the EU Technical Working Group on Unconventional Fossil Fuels and on an Interest group of the Network of Heads of European Environmental Protection Agencies;

 

• At UK level DOE/NIEA represents NI on the Unconventional Gas Regulators Group which includes relevant regulators from throughout the UK;

 

• On a cross border level, DOE/NIEA meets regularly with the Republic of Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency and are co-funding and co-leading a major research programme.  A consultation on the proposed Terms of Reference has been completed which attracted a huge scale of responses.

 

• DOE also participate on a NI Shale Gas Regulators Forum consisting of representatives from government departments and agencies with a potential regulatory role in relation to fracking activities. This forum, which has been formally established following a meeting between the DETI Minister, and myself will enable cross cutting issues, such as the impact of potential seismic activity on well integrity, to be discussed and assessed by the relevant regulators i.e. Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, NIEA and the Health and Safety Executive. It needs to be clearly understood that this forum is to consider the multiple issues around fracking, is not in any way to indicate support from DOE and does not compromise the authority of DOE/NIEA when it comes to planning habitats and all the relevant assessments.

 

I have also visited the United States, in March 2012 and March this year, where I received presentations and briefings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, and Office of Air and Radiation on the issue of hydraulic fracturing.

 

These presentations and briefings highlighted the work that the US EPA is doing, and its planned work, in relation to the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing.  In particular I was briefed on the US EPA’s ongoing research programme on the potential impact of shale gas extraction on drinking water supplies, and also their work on potential technological and regulatory controls on gas emissions.

 

A senior official from NIEA accompanied me on my visit in March 2012 in order to establish relevant contacts with technical staff in the U.S. EPA and has maintained this relationship to ensure that on an ongoing basis we can benefit from the work of the U.S EPA in this area. I have to say that my sense as of the March 2013 meeting compared with the meeting a year earlier was that the precautionary approach was one clearly in evidence.

 

Due to the increasing level of interest and concern in relation to fracking, new studies, reports and assessments are continually being added to the body of literature on this subject, and my Department’s review of available evidence will, by necessity, remain ongoing.

 

As studies, reports and assessments are completed, a broader evidence base will emerge which will aid decision making on the issue. It is my firm view that when it comes to assessments on fracking in relation to health, environment, water, air and other emissions(etc) and , when it comes to decisions (if any are to be made) it is only when the full scientific and research picture is complete that decisions could be made. To do otherwise given the scale of ongoing research and science is to decide in a vacuum that does not aid good decision making. This is the right, best and only way to proceed. That is why I have an enhanced precautionary approach on this issue.

 

The environmental regulation of fracking will be subject to the requirements and environmental standards set out in the relevant European Directives which apply in both jurisdictions. The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive will play a central role and is non-negotiable in the decision making process as it will ensure that the environmental implications of this project are taken into account before final decisions are taken and it will involve the public in the decision making process, making it more transparent. This will ensure consistent standards are applied to regulating such an activity, should any approvals be given in the future in either NI or close to the border in the Republic of Ireland. This consistency is imperative as the environment knows no borders. I have always said that all appropriate planning and environmental standards will be strictly applied on the issue of fracking. As Planning and Environment Minister this approach will not be compromised.

 

On a personal level, I am acutely aware of the concern and anxiety these proposals are creating. I have therefore adopted an open door policy in terms of meeting public representatives, community groups and concerned individuals and I will continue to meet with people or groups that can contribute to this issue.

 

I wish to reassure people, particularly in Fermanagh, that no decisions have been taken by my Department in relation to permitting fracking. Indeed no planning applications or applications for environmental permissions have yet been received.

 

As I outlined earlier, in terms of the current exploration process, it is my understanding that the development company may rely on certain permitted development rights (PDR), not requiring planning permission, for limited activity such as drilling boreholes or carrying out seismic surveys for a period of up to four months. Let me be clear if the exploration works themselves are considered to require Environmental Impact Assessment, the current legislation makes it clear that in such circumstances permitted development rights do not apply. Should the development company seek to rely on PDR, I will assess if Environment Impact Assessment (EIA is required. In any case, I am taking further legal advice if even drilling one borehole requires EIA. I will be clear and direct on this issue. I will tell people, in particular the community if a PDR entitlement exists or not.

 

That said, Permitted development rights are subject to conditions including pre-commencement notification to the Department giving details of locations, target minerals, details of plant, operations and timescales. All operations proposed within an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) or a site of archaeological interest is specifically excluded from these rights. My Department also has powers to restrict these permitted development rights where it is deemed that the works would adversely impact on local amenity.

 

I will ensure that all requirements in this regard are strictly honoured. I must again stress that they do not in any way extend to the extraction of shale gas, which constitutes development requiring planning permission.

 

I would like to reinforce to the elected members, and to the people of Fermanagh, that any proposals submitted to my Department by Tamboran, be it to drill for core samples, drill an exploratory well or set up office accommodation, they will be robustly assessed against the existing legislative and planning policy framework and, as I have said, any assessment has  to be and can only be on the farside of research and science.

 

I wish to explain a number of matters further. Given the nature of Tamboran’s proposals, if a full planning application involving the intention to use a high volume hydraulic fracturing technique is received the Department would have to carefully consider whether it should be deemed a major planning application under Article 31, of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. Article 31 allows my Department to deal with such applications under special procedures which allow for a much greater level of scrutiny of the application and the resulting decision. For example, the Article 31 process allows for a public inquiry if my Department considers it necessary. The need for a public inquiry will normally emerge through the processing of a planning application where issues raised by consultees or public representation are technical and complex and cannot be satisfactorily resolved through the normal planning process. I believe there will be significant demands for a public inquiry, should such a planning application be received.

 

However, as Minister, I cannot pre-judge the issue and I will instruct my Department to consider all relevant matters, if a planning application is received in relation to both Article 31 and the option of a Public Inquiry. I would note that another energy proposal – the application for a North South Interconnector  - was deemed Article 31 and is proceeding by way of a Public Inquiry.

 

I have met with Tamboran senior management to reinforce and directly so to them that there are stringent legislative, procedural and policy requirements that apply to fracking and to confirm to Tamboran that my Department will robustly assess any proposals presented, against these stringent requirements and my firm view on the issues of science and research.

 

As I have outlined in this statement, my Department is proactively engaging on an international, European, UK and Ireland  and local level to ensure that should a planning application or an application for an environmental permission be received, my Officials within DOE Planning and NIEA, will be best placed to assess the proposals and enable me to make decisions based on knowledge gained from around the world but set within the context of our unique landscape and environment, which is particularly the case in County Fermanagh.

 

I am making this statement as Environment  Minister and Minister responsible for planning. The scale, wonder and beauty of our natural, built, archaeological and Christian heritage is unsurpassed on this island. It is part of the character of our lives and a big part of the economic future of this part of the island. This is a further factor that must be fully assessed as the issues develop.

 

 

Waste Crime: The Threat of Criminality and Organised Crime

 

Published at 6.00 pm on Tuesday 16 July 2013

 

Mr Attwood (The Minister of the Environment): I wish to bring further details to the attention of the Assembly of a major case of environmental crime in the Derry area. When I brought this matter to public attention in June, I had consulted the Speaker and agreed that I should do a written statement to the Assembly as the better way to proceed. Given the range and nature of the issues involved, I believe it is now timely to provide that further update, having already provided a lengthy private briefing to the Environment Committee.

 

Successful economies in the 21st century will be ones in which natural resources are used for maximum economic and social benefit.  This will mean that levels of waste will be continually reduced.  Eventually, ‘waste’ will become an obsolete concept, even if this seems beyond our imagination and ambition.

 

Until that happens, any residual waste that is still produced will be re-used, recycled or properly disposed of. This is required of us in ethical terms, European terms and domestic terms.

 

As part of pursuing these aims, environmental crime, whether it is in the guise of waste dumping, fuel laundering or other types, must be eliminated in Northern Ireland, on this island and beyond.

 

This type of environmental crime undermines legitimate business operators in the waste and other sectors, impinges on our overall economic development and, creates major threats to our unique and precious natural environment.

 

This is why I have taken decisive steps against environmental crime early in June.

 

On Wednesday the 5th of June, the Department of Environment (DoE) revoked the licence granted to an operator of a major waste facility in the North West.  This followed an unprecedented investigation into allegations of large scale criminal offending involving the disposal of waste.

 

Following receipt of intelligence last year, I instructed the environmental police within the Department of Environment - the Environmental Crime Unit - to undertake a full scale investigation (known as “Operation Sycamore”) into activities at the Derry site. This has been painstaking work with the aim of maximizing the chances of dealing a big blow to serious criminality and a big blow to environmental vandalism.

 

The scale of the unlawful waste activity is immense and dates back at least until 2009.  It is sophisticated in its deception.  Material was mangled and shredded to hide its original sourcing, with illegal landfills being top filled with soil and clay to deceive and hide illegal waste.

 

Not just tens but some hundreds of thousands of tons of waste were illegally deposited in a number of areas of land in the Mobouy area, just outside Derry.  The scale of this is clearly well organized – the scale of this means it involves organized crime.

 

“Operation Sycamore” has to date resulted in the arrest of two individuals in connection with alleged offences and further arrests are expected as the operation continues.  A number of individuals, businesses and land folios are the subject of the investigation. Appropriate enforcement notices were served in June, as detailed below.

 

First, the operator of the waste management facility is now required, over a period of two months, to deliver all remaining waste at the site to a legal landfill site for disposal.

 

Second, and separately, other notices were served on the landowners of land used for the disposal of waste requiring them to take action to prevent environmental damage by removing polluting liquid from the waste for disposal elsewhere.

 

Third, further notices were served on certain operators requiring those operators to take action to prevent further damage (that is to say damage which is environmental damage or damage where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the damage is or will become environmental damage) under the Environmental Liability (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations (NI) 2009. These notices require action to be taken to collect and legally dispose of liquid within the infilled waste to stop it causing harm to the environment.  It is expected that this legislation will be used further to require additional measures to be taken to prevent environmental damage and also to carry out works to remove and remediate the sites.

 

I believe that the scale of last month’s disclosure requires fundamental intervention by government and others. As a result, I have taken a series of further measures beyond the legal interventions detailed above to address the current situation, including:

 

1. The creation of a “Waste Crime Taskforce” to co-ordinate and escalate work to address organized waste crime, in a comprehensive, unambiguous manner this is to put the spotlight on this crime like never before and to address the issue like never before.

 

2. Further support for the ECU in continuing to develop evidence against all involved in the criminality in this case and in other cases. I made a dedicated bid for additional resources in ‘June Monitoring’ in this respect. The Finance Minister supported this bid, agreed £1.5 million, monies to be used to, in this financial year, to upgrade the work of the ECU and other enforcement activities of the DOE.

 

3. An immediate review of other waste sites in Northern Ireland, concentrating on a “TOP 25” of locations where risk may exist, based upon current information, intelligence, past record and ongoing enforcement issues.  This work involves the ECU and Waste arms of DOE: NIEA

 

4. Contact and communication in June with Councils and other businesses which used the Derry site, to ensure Councils activated their alternative waste collection arrangements and   critically, to require Councils to provide proof of the waste trail in relation to Council collected waste, and to demonstrate that councils have exercised due diligence around the management of waste contracts.

 

5. Intensive assessment of ground water, water course and river water quality to determine any water quality impact arising from the illegal waste sites. Past assessment of the River Faughan, for example, indicates, currently, no raised levels of pollution. These assessments are extensive, thorough and should help ensure the early detection of water risks, if they should arise.

 

I directed the new Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to prioritise these actions and ensure that the Agency’s resources and efforts are marshalled for a major effort to tackle environmental crime.

 

This effort must ensure that all those involved in the ‘waste chain’, including businesses that generate waste, councils and businesses who collect it, businesses who transport it and businesses who treat, recycle and dispose of it, must fully and properly discharge their waste responsibilities.

 

6. I also commissioned an Expert Review to be conducted by Chris Mills, the former Director of the Welsh Environment Agency. This work began immediately after the announcement. The work is ongoing.

 

Mr Mills has extensive experience in environmental protection and in his seven years as Director of the Welsh Environment Agency, he had responsibility for all aspects of the regulation of waste.

 

Under his leadership, the Welsh Environment Agency closed down over 270 illegal waste sites and pioneered the application of the proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to combat waste crime.  To date, 14 Confiscation Orders totalling 14.7 million pounds have been successfully served on offenders.  Environment Agency Wales also recently completed a successful campaign to clear over 300,000 illegally dumped tyres.

 

Mr Mills review will support the DoE’s on-going work to create a waste sector in Northern Ireland that complies with the law, protects the environment and underpins resource efficiency by conducting a review into:

 

 what transpired in relation to the waste facility at the Campsie site and to identify any failures that might have occurred in the regulation of this site, in respect of any sectors of central government.

 

 the external factors leading to the extensive illegal waste dumping at the Campsie site;

 

 the lessons this incident provides for the future development and administration of waste management, resource efficiency and enforcement programmes.

 

The Expert Reviewer will provide a report to the Minister for the Environment and the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency no later than Thursday 31 October 2013. In addition the reviewer should provide monthly updates and, if at any stage considers an issue to be of high significance, should advise the Minister and the Chief Executive. Whilst the report should focus on the incident in question, it is expected that it will be put into the context of the structures and arrangements for the management and disposal of waste in Northern Ireland.

 

I wish to emphasise that Mr Mills, my Permanent Secretary and other senior staff all know and have been directed that the approach must be “robust and fearless”

 

Any operation which we can identify and against which there is evidence will be isolated and robust action will follow. In the interrogation of what DOE did around this facility and generally, every stone will be turned.

 

7. I also can confirm that other appropriate assessments of the waste management facility and adjacent lands are ongoing with the relevant agencies to mitigate risk and damage problems, be it fly infestation, fire risk or other matters.

 

I wish to confirm that a large number of streams of work are ongoing in relation to the North – West: the purpose is singular to address decisively the immediate and longer term issues that have been identified. The Environment Committee will be regularly updated, both in general and when otherwise needed, as events unfold, as they will.

 

Last month’s revelations about waste dumping in the North West indicate the scale of waste crime and the threat it poses – in environmental damage, illegality, criminality and loss of revenue to the state.

 

The set of actions I have just outlined represent a wide ranging strategy to put waste crime front and centre in relation to criminality in Northern Ireland.

 

As I say, all of this requires a comprehensive response.  This is why, in a separate streams of work, I have spoken with the Justice Minister, David Ford and senior PSNI in recent times to press home the need for the fullest, comprehensive, co-ordinated and decisive response to the threat. The threat of waste crime and the organised criminality involved means that the crime and assets agencies must treat this threat as a priority. Since early June, the levels of engagement and joint effort have grown significantly between the relevant organisations. This is needed, and more is needed.

 

The focussed and extensive actions by my Department are critical for success in eliminating environmental crime, but on their own they are not enough.  A co-ordinated and powerful response from all agencies is needed and this is a further urgent element of work that I have said we need to take forward together. I shall be working to achieve this wider approach, essential to address the threat of organised crime.

 

In conclusion, let me re-emphasise what I have been saying over recent weeks.  I have been speaking of the threat of organized criminality on the island.  The volume of fuel laundering in recent months and the volume of unlawful disposal of waste revealed last month has been the reason.

Find Your MLA

tools-map.png

Locate your local MLA

Find MLA

News and Media Centre

tools-media.png

Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly

tools-social.png

Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more

Contact information

tools-newsletter.png

Contact us for further information about our work.

Contact us