Parades report published

Proposals to create a revised system of dealing with sectarian parades that would replace the Parades Commission were published this week by Six-County First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Their consultation document proposes replacing the commission with two bodies.

The first would attempt to engage nationalist residents’ groups and the marching orders in dialogue and mediation.

Where it failed to find agreement, decisions would pass to a second ‘adjudication’ body, comprised of 11 members to be “representative” of the Six-County population.

The 67-page document, which includes a draft new Bill on parading, is undergoing a 12-week consultation period which ends on July 14th, two days after the major July 12th Orange Order parades.

The proposals follow from the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, and were devised by a working group of three DUP and three Sinn Fein members.

One of its terms of reference was that there must be “respect for the rights of those who parade, and respect for the rights of those who live in areas through which they seek to parade”.

This would include “the right for everyone to be free from sectarian harassment”.

The 11-strong ‘adjudication’ body will have five-member sub-groups who will take decisions. Where these decisions are appealed, as is usual, a final decision will be made by the full 11 members, by majority vote if there is not unanimity.

A code of conduct and legislation are being prepared to make it a criminal offence for anyone to engage in “disruption, harassment or abuse” whether parading or protesting against a parade.

The loyal orders and nationalist groups opposing parades will be expected to take part in dialogue to resolve disputed parades, and any refusal to do so can be taken into account by the adjudication body.

Minister for Justice David Ford in “extraordinary” situations, with the agreement of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, would have the ultimate power to ban parades, a power which currently rests with Britain’s Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward. It was not immediately clear what situation would merit Ford’s involvement.

“For the first time in any legislation, the right to live free for sectarian harassment, is enshrined, and a legal definition is put forward,” said Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd, a member of the working group.

“The Loyal Orders will be legally bound by the Code of Conduct, as will any hangers on, supporters, and their bands.”

He called on all communities affected by parading issues to use the opportunity presented by the consultation period.

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