Parades Commission: There is much less tension now and policing is more lower key
Whilst much has changed since the Parades Commission was established as a statutory body in 1998, the parading culture in Northern Ireland remains as strong and as active as it was 20 years ago.
There are thousands of parades held here, with around 5,000 notified last year. About half of these were by the loyal orders and loyalist bands, and around 180 from the nationalist and republican tradition. Civic/other parades account for the rest.
Parades are held across all parts of Northern Ireland. As 20 years ago, the vast majority are peaceful and still enjoyed by large numbers of people.
The Commission's roles are as a regulator and adjudicator. It promotes its statutory code of conduct, which is similar to that in Scotland, where local bands and lodges often visit.
The code sets out standards of behaviour outside places of worship, at interfaces, and other good practice for organisers.
The most public aspect of the Commission's work remains its adjudication on sensitive parades. Comparable to 20 years ago, it intervenes in about 3% of parades. Its first determination in relation to Drumcree cut to the heart of the matter. In the words of the first Commission, "resentment seems to us to have deeper roots in much wider issues".
The Commission continues to adjudicate on the Drumcree parade and other long-standing parading disputes that originated decades ago.
Wider community relationships remain the critical issue. When these soured during the flag protests, areas in Belfast and beyond destabilised and the dispute at north Belfast's Crumlin Road was intense. However, so much has changed. Improving community relationships have had a major impact. There is much less tension about parades across the board. Protests against parades are rare, with only five last year. Policing operations are often lower key.
These improvements are the result of relentless efforts by large numbers of people, individuals and groups to resolve disputes. The nature of this work varies strikingly from place to place. The common denominators, however, are a willingness to take risks, to communicate and to co-operate. There is improved engagement with the Commission and a more positive attitude from many organisers regarding management of their parades.
The work and approach of the Commission has shifted, too. These days there is more focus on its regulatory function, including promoting conduct codes. The question is can this progress be maintained and built upon? The Commission believes it can.
Anne Henderson is chair of the Parades Commission