Parades legislation revamped
Parades legislation revamped

The DUP and Sinn Fein have been challenged to scrap the entire draft parades legislation after making an apparent U-turn on some major elements.

In a statement, the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said they would now drop the broad inclusion of open-air and other public meetings from the legislation before it goes before the assembly next month.

They also claimed they would address any confusion in reference to human rights, specifically the right to free assembly.

The draft bill was a key element of the Hillsborough Agreement signed in February by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

It envisaged a “new, improved framework for the management and regulation of public assemblies including parades and related protests”.

The draft bill -- agreed by a six-strong group of DUP and Sinn Fein politicians -- was slammed by a large range of organisations, from nationalist residents groups to the Orange Order.

It included a 37 day notice requirement effectively banning timely public protests, while raising civil rights questions in regard to a wide range of activities which have never proven contentious.

There were also fears that the DUP and Sinn Fein would handpick an adjudications panel which could make political deals to permit or block parades in accordance with wider party interests and agendas.

Even the PSNI complained that the draft bill, if enacted, would require it to clamp down on innocent private events such as outdoor barbecues.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the purpose of the consultation period was to “allow key stakeholders and concerned groups to make submissions on this important piece of legislation.

“This legislation will see a new way of dealing with the issue of Loyal Order parades on the basis of equality and human rights. The right of all citizens to live free from sectarian harassment will be at the core of the legislation.

“At the heart of the new proposals will be an emphasis on dialogue. There will be mechanisms to encourage local people to resolve local issues of concern regarding contentious parades through locally based dialogue.”

However, Garvaghy Road Residents Association spokesman Brendan Mac Cionnaith said that the legislation was still fundamentally flawed.

“lt is remarkable that legislation drafted to deal with contentious marches, should, in an entire document, not actually quantify or explain the issue.

“I think they need to be more specific about what exactly they are trying to deal with.”

Both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party also called for the legislation to be scrapped.

The Republican Network or Unity called for the proposed parades bill to be “binned rather than revised” because “the misjudgments at the very heart of the proposed measures run too deep to be papered over by a few corrective amendments”.

The RNU chairperson Danny McBrearty said: “There were said to be 410 written submissions to the bill, with the overwhelming majority having been strongly critical.

“Indeed, few proposals have so united people in the Six Counties as has the Parades Bill and opposition to it. This bill was a mistake from the outset.

“The issues of Loyal Order parades routed through Nationalist areas were far too important to be thrown as a bargaining chip in a deal for a compromised Stormont justice ministry.

“When the DUP demanded ‘product’ on contentious parades, it was not seeking mechanisms to give vulnerable residents equal or greater protection of rights to be free from sectarian harassment but a backdoor for Orange feet to march down roads where they had been blocked.”

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