By Bill Heaney
The Scottish government is considering setting up a parades commission similar to the one in Northern Ireland, according to a report today on BBC Scotland.
The announcement came in the wake of police making several arrests at a series of Orange Walks in Glasgow, Dumbarton and Vale of Leven at the weekend.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had asked the justice secretary [Keith Brown MSP] to examine what action could be taken to prevent similar disorder in the future.
She said this would include considering whether a commission is needed.
The independent parades commission in Northern Ireland was set up in 1998, and has the power to place restrictions on public processions and related protest meetings.
Ms Sturgeon, right, was responding to a question at Holyrood from SNP MSP James Dornan, who highlighted concerns that some of the weekend’s Orange Walks had passed by Catholic churches.
Mr Dornan said: “The First Minister will have seen the reports last week of the disgraceful anti-Catholic singing during the Orange Order marches throughout Glasgow, including in my constituency.
“At least three of the routes involved marching past Roman Catholic churches, which caused great distress and concern to the members of those parishes and the wider church in Scotland.
“Given those events, will the First Minister consider the creation of a parades commission, similar to that in Northern Ireland, to take a non-partisan and independent look at the number and routes of such parades? Anyone old enough to remember the annual battles at Drumcree will verify the difference that the commission has made in Northern Ireland.
“There were also shameful reports of Glasgow city councillors receiving death threats when any possible restriction of Orange Order parades was discussed. I am in no doubt that, just as in Northern Ireland, a parades commission would go a long way towards taking some of the heat out of the discussion of parades.
“I am sure we can all agree that, if those parades are to go ahead, they should do so in a way that least threatens and intimidates those of another faith or opinion.”
She added: “It is important to stress that peaceful public assembly and freedom of expression are fundamentally important rights. I know that we are all committed to upholding them. It is also a fundamental right for any person or community to go about their daily business without fearing for their safety.
“I know that members will join me in unequivocally condemning all the instances of anti-Catholic bigotry that we have recently seen on our streets. There is no place for that in a modern Scotland, and we must all show zero tolerance towards it.
“I confirm that we will give the specific proposal consideration and will report back to Parliament in due course.”
Police made a total of 14 arrests amid reports of anti-social behaviour including sectarian and racist singing. They said there may be more in the pipeline once film footage of the parades are examined.
Ms Sturgeon said the government would give “further consideration” to whether a commission should be established.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking in the Holyrood chamber today.
She added: “I have already asked the justice secretary to consider what further action could be taken to maintain the important balance of rights between peaceful procession, freedom of speech, but also the ability of people to go about their daily lives without feeling unsafe and being free from harassment.
“I will ask the justice secretary to consider the possible creation of a parades commission as part of that.
“I know that members will join me unequivocally at condemning all instances of anti-Catholic bigotry which we have seen on our streets in recent times.”
The Orange Order, which organised the walks at the weekend, has said there have been parades in Glasgow for 200 years with “very, very little trouble”.
It has also insisted the organisation is not anti-Catholic.
About 5,000 people were said to have taken part in the marches, with police saying there had been “outbreaks of racist and sectarian singing” among some of those who attended.
The force said most of the 14 arrests made by its officers were for public disorder and anti-social behaviour, but also included sectarian-related breach of the peace.
The marches had been postponed from 12 July because of Covid restrictions.