THE SCOTTISH Government is to consider a Northern Ireland-style parades commission to regulate marches in Scotland

Details of a new working group “to consider ways to promote peaceful assemblies” was announced by Justice Secretary Keith Brown on Thursday afternoon. 

It follows a swathe of arrests during Orange Order walks last September when 14 people were arrested for various offences.

At the time, the First Minister was urged by one of her own MSPs to “consider the creation of a Parades Commission, similar to what already happens in Northern Ireland, to take a non-partisan and independent look at the number and route of such parades”

The government says the new group will “consider whether other models used to regulate marches and parades - including the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland - can be adapted and applied to Scotland.”

A report of initial findings will be provided in the summer.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown said: “The right to peacefully march and parade is fundamental to all democracies, but the right to march must be balanced with the rights of communities to go about their business undisturbed.

“We are determined to achieve that balance and are open to considering all options which will help to ensure that such a balance is struck.

“The findings of the expert working group will help us as we make progress on this important issue.”

The group will be chaired by Professor Dominic Bryan, from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, at Queens University Belfast. He was involved in the development of the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland and has given evidence in subsequent reviews of the Commission

Professor Bryan said: “We are pleased to have the opportunity to review marches and parades in Scotland and the mechanisms that balance the rights of marchers and the communities impacted by marches.”

Other members include Lorraine Gillies, Chief Executive Scottish Community Safety Network, Graeme Boyack, Director of Scottish Mediation, and Dr Michael Hamilton, Associate Professor in Public Protest Law

Northern Ireland's Parades Commission was established in 1998 following violence and unrest associated with parades in the town of Portadown, known as the Drumcree conflict.

It is an independent public body with seven members and is responsible for placing restrictions on any parades.

Last September, the SNP’s James Dornan, who represents Glasgow Cathcart, told the First Minister there were "shameful reports of Glasgow city councillors receiving death threats when any possible restrictions of Orange parades were discussed". 

He said he had "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". 

However, at the time, Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Order’s Grand Secretary in Northern Ireland, said it would be "biased" against Protestants and only result in more “division” and “intolerance”. 

He urged SNP ministers “not to dance to the tune of a small number of Roman Catholic protestors who don’t want a Protestant about the place”.

He said: “We think it would be a bad idea. It sustains division and here it used to reward the threat of violence.

“Parading by and large is a cultural activity of the Protestant community, thereby any body created to look at parades by extension has a bias against that community. 

“Whereas hate crime legislation applies to all intolerance and bigotry, irrespective of race, creed or gender. We believe there’s enough laws to do with antisocial and hate crime.

“A parades commission only introduces another layer of unnecessary and unhelpful bureaucracy that encourages intolerance.”