There still seems to be a bit of misunderstanding about the consultation paper issued by OFMDFM on Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests in Northern Ireland. It’s even been covered on Slugger … though Brian did point to the small relevant print.
Talk about parades and all you’ll hear a lot of talk about 37 days.
Section 13 explains that notice should normally be given to OPAPP (Office of Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests) during working hours on a working day 37 calendar days before the public meeting or procession is due to start. (It’s not 37 working days, it’s just 37 days … 5 weeks and an extra weekend.)
Public protests reacting to a public meeting or procession (section 15) should normally be notified 22 calendar days beforehand.
However, the draft bill does contain provision for unexpected circumstances.
The Late Notification procedure (section 33) allows public assemblies to be organised with three working day’s notice.
And the Emergency procedure (section 36) allows someone to go to the police station nearest to the event they’re organising and hand over a notice of the public meeting, procession or protest to a sergeant (or someone more senior) within just three calendar days of the event. Effectively this allows the Chief Constable to rule on whether the police can resource a protest in front of the City Hall and notify the statutory body PAPPB (Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Body) that he’s happy.
And if you really want to do something in a hurry – protest indoors and invite the TV cameras in as it won’t fall under the legislation.
Is three day’s notice really so bad? Would that not still have allowed the ant-racism rallies to go ahead on front of Belfast City Hall? Hold a rally in the Visteon car park and you won’t be on public land so that’s exempt too! Suddenly the proposed legislation isn’t quite so draconian.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.