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How Peter Hain made a hames of the Parades Commission
When the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain appointed two members of the Orange Order to the Parades Commission, he set himself up for a political bruising. But worse than that, he may have fatally undermined the ability of the organisation to function.
Eamonn McCann, 30 Jun 2006
This did not mean, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr added, that it had been wise not to write to residents’ groups as well as to the Loyal Orders, but only that this had not been legally necessary.
Significantly, the court did not rule that the Commission appointed by Hain was a balanced body. Nor did it rule that no conflict of interest existed. It decided only that Hain and his officials had met their legal responsibilities by taking these factors into account. The appointments might be wise or unwise: the role of the courts was to determine whether they were lawful, and the Appeal Court said they were.
Unhappily for Peter Hain, Kerr endorsed Morgan’s assessment of the panel’s belief that neither of the Portadown men had a conflict of interest as “inexplicable.” The conflict was “both inescapable and obvious,” he said. Nevertheless, he continued, Hain had been aware of the conflict and had taken steps to address it in seeking assurances from the two men. He had to assume that Hain had made the appointments with his eyes open. “I cannot but suppose that he realised if these gentlemen were appointed, there would inevitably be occasions when the question of whether they should participate in the Commission’s deliberations would arise.”
Kerr foresaw “considerable difficulties in Burrows taking part in many of the critical determinations of the Commission.” He “accepted the potential for judicial review challenges to determinations...on the basis that Mr. Burrows should not have been party to them.” As a result of Burrow’s membership of the Orange Order, the work of the Commission might be “bedevilled with difficulty.” He quoted OCPA guidelines suggesting that Mr. Burrows should “step out of meetings” where matters, in which he had an interest, were being discussed.
Burrows has now agreed not to take part in discussions of marches involving Portadown lodges. Whether he can lawfully participate in discussion of any Orange marches may be the subject of future court challenges.