I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 40 together. I also refer to my reply on 25 April 1995 to Question No. 28 from Deputy Harney.
Since I gave that reply there have been a number of further constructive contributions to the debate on the parades issue which I welcome. The proposal made by the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Robin Eames, that a body be established to advise on the routing of parades in Northern Ireland deserves serious consideration in the context of this debate and I particularly welcome it. Similar proposals have also been made by other respected commentators. Clearly these are an important contribution to the dialogue which is essential if the difficulties surrounding the marching season are to be resolved.
As I have indicated before, the Government's policy is that those who wish to celebrate their identity and heritage by marching should exercise that right with due respect for the principle that parades should not take place in an area or along a route where they are not welcome. We have also consistently emphasised the need to address the issue of parades in all its dimensions — political, social, cultural and public order.
We stand ready to contribute to further discussion of the proposal for an independent tribunal or other body to consider the parades question. It has been observed many times that the problems created by the marching season are themselves a reflection of the wider political division between the communities in Northern Ireland and have an impact beyond the local area where difficulties occur. An independent body or some general agreement on the issue would therefore be very welcome.
However, it is unlikely that an agreed proposal for an independent body could be implemented in time to influence parades scheduled for this year. I raised our concerns about the current marching season with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 22 May 1996. On a number of occasions already this year the RUC has given early notice of its decisions on particular march routes. I welcome this approach, which I believe allows time for mediation and dialogue to develop. I hope that it will continue to be followed throughout the marching season.
It is important that the principle which I have outlined should be respected even where large numbers are involved in a proposed march. I would add that, where a parade is routed through an area where it is not welcome, this in itself deepens community division, even where there is no actual disorder, and postpones a resolution of the fundamental issues surrounding the parades issue.
The House will be aware that the conference called on all those involved in the planning of parades this year to exercise compromise and balance in the interests of the community as a whole and encouraged agreements between all concerned. I note in particular the heavy responsibility bearing on those who are involved in the organisation of parades during the rest of the marching season, particularly at a time when all-party negotiations will be under way. I hope that Archbishop Eames's recent call on these leaders to show charity, understanding and good example will be heeded in the months ahead, and that they will avoid the predictable confrontations which reflect so poorly on the public image of the organisations involved.