SCOTLAND is set to see six times the amount of Orange Order processions this year than last as loyalist parades ramp up now that pandemic restrictions have been removed, the Sunday National can reveal.

As the country was under Level 3 and Level 4 Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, there were no loyalist marches held. Only 30 managed to go ahead in the summer of 2021 across 10 council areas, with a further 14 planned but later cancelled. But now, with all final pandemic rules stripped away, Scotland is set to see a jump to 184 Orange Order parades in 15 local authority areas.

This is not yet at pre-pandemic levels. In 2019 there were 414 and 192 of those were in Glasgow alone. Scotland’s most populated city will still host the bulk – 44% (81) – of loyalist parades this year.

As one council source told The National, the “appetite” for loyalist walks has clearly not gone away. As soon as restrictions eased authorities began to get notifications of processions, which are then made publicly available on each council’s website.

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Just a few weeks ago, the Scottish Government announced that they had set up an independent working group on marches and parades, where experts will “consider ways to promote peaceful assemblies”.

Part of the brief will look at whether or not Scotland could benefit from adopting a model similar to Northern Ireland’s parade commission. The non-departmental body, which has seven members appointed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, can place restrictions on any marches it deems contentious or offensive.

But not everyone is convinced that this approach can apply in Scotland – there are around 2000 Orange Order parades in Northern Ireland each year.

The issue essentially boils down to a balancing of human rights – between those who take part in the marches and those living in the communities where they are held.

In 2018, Canon Tom White was spat on by an Orange Order member outside of St Alphonsus Church on London Road in the East End of Glasgow, as he tried to get back inside the church. Bradley Wallace, 24, later pled guilty to the assault in 2019. There have been numerous calls in the wake of the attack for protestant parades to be banned from passing Catholic churches.

The National: Canon Tom White Canon Tom White

And, outbreaks of racist and sectarian singing from those attending Orange Order processions have also been condemned, as well as physical and verbal clashes with the public.

Current Glasgow Council leader Susan Aitken says that Glaswegians are “frankly getting fed up” of dealing with the fall-out from the parades and impingement on their day-to-day lives, and that independent polling showed that the city’s residents “definitely want to see fewer” allowed to go ahead.

She said: “I don’t think we are Northern Ireland or a direct parallel, but it is an issue that we have to deal with.

“Local authorities don’t have sufficient powers to deal with it in the way that communities want us to so I think some kind of a national body, independent, appointed, and who can take an overview of these decisions and this sense of impact or disruption to the life of the community would be very helpful and useful.

“It will hopefully move us beyond some of the rancour and febrile atmosphere there has been in recent years.”

Aitken added that councillors, and herself, had been on the receiving end of abuse just for serving on the city’s public processions committee. The issue is inherently divisive, and historic.

Dave Scott, director of Nil by Mouth, an anti-sectarian charity, said that the figures for 2022 showed there is “little sign of them [parades] becoming any less controversial any time soon”.

He explained: “Councils currently tread a very fine line between established rights to free expression and police and public concerns over provocative behaviour and, on occasions, counter demonstrations.

“The Government’s working group don’t have an easy task and I suspect they will try and map out ways that local issues are dealt with by local people and communities through mediation or dialogue.”

The National: David Scott of Nil By MouthDavid Scott of Nil By Mouth

Scott added that the charity doesn’t believe a blanket ban on all Orange Order marches is the solution – but that a reduction in the number is definitely needed.

He added: “Where there is evidence of marching protocols past places of worship not being followed or criminal and anti-social behaviour accompanying marches – organisers must accept some sort of public liability for this and, where required, accept restrictions on certain routes for future processions.”

There is also the cost to the public purse – each parade requires a police escort which varies in size depending on the number in the procession and traffic restrictions. The Sunday National asked Police Scotland if they had an idea of the overall cost, but the force was not forthcoming with the figures.

A spokesperson said: “In advance of any procession a comprehensive and appropriate policing and traffic management plan is put in place to ensure the safety of those taking part, anyone taking part in a lawful counter demonstration, and minimise the potential for disruption to the local community.”

The annual Boyne celebrations on July 2 is the busiest day in the Protestant marching calendar. This year will see 43 marches in Glasgow in one day.

The biggest, hosted by the County Grand Orange Lodge Of Glasgow, will have 4075 in the main procession, and hundreds more in feeder marches coming from across the city. Our sister paper The Herald reported in 2006 that the cost for policing on that one day was £317,000.

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In North Lanarkshire, where the second highest number of parades in Scotland are held, policing cost £469,983 over three years between 2010 and 2012.

In 2019, the local authority saw 68 Orange Order walks. This dropped significantly to four in 2021 when Covid-19 rules were in place, but has risen to 30 in 2022.

South Lanarkshire, which pre-pandemic came third in the number of processions held in Scotland (38), saw seven marches in 2021, with a slight increase to 12 this year.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All recommendations made by the group will be given full consideration.”

The Orange Order was contacted for comment.