Outraged at Israel’s violent attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla? Outraged at those who are outraged? Either way, you may have to wait 37 days the next time you want to join your international peers in demonstrating your anger.
Something that should’ve been obvious from yesterday’s City Centre vigil for the flotilla, but was rarely mentioned: If the Public Assemblies Bill passes, yesterday’s demonstration would have been illegal. The organizers and everyone there could have been subject to six months in prison and hefty fines.
The bill may have been designed to deal with contentious parades, but it has arguably missed its mark. Yesterday we saw the clearest incarnation of this, when hundreds of people gathered at City Hall to show the world how they felt, and to react to international events. But the Public Assemblies Bill would change all this, as it would require any public demonstration or protest to seek permission 37 days before the beginning of the event. While it leaves room for ’emergencies,’ this still requires 3 days notice and permission from the Chief Constable. This means people here in Northern Ireland would still be waiting to demonstrate over Israel’s actions.
Instead of clearly and narrowly dealing with contentious parades in Northern Ireland, it would deny groups like trade unions, community groups, or, as in yesterday’s case, hundreds of ordinary people – some with party or group affiliations, others without, everyone with something to say – the ability to organize quickly and show support for a particular cause.
Whether or not you disagree or agree with Israel’s actions isn’t important. What’s important is that, at least right now, you have the right to demonstrate to the world (peacefully) what you think. The Public Assemblies Bill could take that right away.