“It is part of the outworking of the Hillsborough Agreement…”

Interesting comment yesterday from Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd on the end of the consultation period on the Sinn Féin/DUP drafted Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill [pdf file] – which a significant number of diverse groups are opposing.  From the SF statement

“This legislation is an attempt to find a better way forward. It is part of the outworking of the Hillsborough Agreement. It is only designed to be about the issue of parades and related protests. Concerns raised by Trade Unions and others that the current Draft legislation may unintentionally infringe on their work can and will be resolved through the next stages of the process.” [added emphasis]

Really?  Unintentionally?  That will be why the only explicit exceptions to the provisions of the draft “Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill” are funeral processions

Here’s a thought. 

Why don’t the Office of the First and deputy First Ministers publish the report on the “agreed outcomes” of the working group on which this Draft Bill is based?  Maybe then we could help identify where this unintentional slip-up occured?

Remember the working group?  Members – Gerry Kelly and Jeffrey Donaldson, Stephen Moutray, Nelson McCausland, Michelle Gildernew and John O’Dowd.  [Adds  Ably advised by Mervyn Gibson and Sean ‘Spike’ Murray…]

Here’s part of the remit of that working group, as noted here, from the Hillsborough Agreement [pdf file]

[2] 3. We recognise that support from all sides of the community has the potential to create a new improved framework for the management and regulation of public assemblies including parades and related protests. [added emphasis]


[2] 4. The working group has been tasked to take forward work in the following areas, building on the interim report of the Strategic Review of Parading. This will inform the public consultation, as part of the schedule, as set out in the timetable below:
· Procedures relating to the receipt and notification of parades and assemblies; objections relating to them; necessary actions arising from the lodging of objections; and the facilitation of dialogue and mediation; [added emphasis again]
· In the event of the failure of mediation, recourse to independent adjudications and procedures;
· Adjudication arrangements comprising an appropriate mix of lay and legal expertise with sufficient resources to operate effectively and efficiently;
· A code of conduct which is legally enforceable;
· The right of citizens to freedom from all forms of harassment.


[2] 5. The working group by agreement may add to the above points. [section 2.4]

And there are other reasons why the report on the “agreed outcomes” of that working group would be worth looking at.

The “Hillsborough Castle Agreement” has this to say on those “agreed outcomes”

6. The First Minister and deputy First Minister will promote and support the agreed outcomes of the working group.  [added emphasis]

And from that document’s timetable

Working group begins work 9 February

Working group completes work and reports on agreed outcomes to FM/dFM By 23 February

Commencement of the drafting of Bill to implement working group agreed outcomes (working group to assist during drafting process to confirm Bill delivers agreed outcomes) End w/c 22 Feb

Draft Bill completed Late March

That would be the same working group of which John O’Dowd was a member…  And we have the resultant Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill

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  • incisive piece

  • Was the working party not also ably assisted by Mervyn Gibson and Spike Murray representing parade and protest respectively.

    Even if this latest proposal gets of the ground, dialogue/mediation/adjucidation remain the three pillars of the process.

    As it is topical, lets take the Ardoyne circumstances. There were four years of direct dialogue to find accommodation and to move forward on some sense of shared space in the area to 2009. 2009 something seemed to happen and CARA/GARC have emerged as competing groups, each using their position on parades as some form of yardstick as to who is the daddy for the Ardoyne.On the one hand there is a group that believes negotiation is futile and the other that wishes to ‘sanitise’ parades – references in here http://greaterardoyneresidentscollective.blogspot.com. Not sure what ‘sanitise’ means: sounds a bit final solution in the language there.

    So which is the more likely to offer an accommodation through meaningful dialogue? That has been the question faced by the North & West Belfast Parades Forum – facing rhethoric of the type above,from either group, would hardly be pleasant or constructive. That is the question for the Parades Commission now and for the OFMDFM in its Parades & Protest suggestions if dialogue is central to moving ahead. That is a fundamental question for the consideration of a Shared Future.

  • joeCanuck

    Is there a misprint here? Was it really Spike Murray or that other Irish comedian, Spike Milligan? Certainly is one huge joke.

  • Pete Baker

    Yes they were.

    I’ve added a specific reference to the advisers.

    But let’s keep the focus on the legislation. And its intentional general application beyond contentious parades.

  • The quote also references that this is intended to be ‘a better way forward’. It was intentional to take in parades and protest, and unless it wanted to fall foul of the Human Rights Act at first hurdle it had to take into account all ‘events’ that could be described in that way. Therefore intentional or not, the legislation will cover all, or none.

  • wj

    I believe that Freedom of Information requests seeking to discover the contents of the the Working Groups report and its “agreed outcomes” have been refused on the grounds that, wait for it – it is not in the public interest to publish them.

  • Pete Baker

    “it is not in the public interest to publish them”

    Now there’s a surprise…

  • wj

    Well, given the DUP/SF have concocted agreed outcomes – obviously outcomes which mean that certain contentious parades can go ahead but certain one’s can’t – its not in the interests of their respective voters (the public interest) to allow the voters to know what’s going to happen next summer (particularly as the elections will occur before then).

    Will we be faced with stand-offs and violence from the unionist community like another Drumcree or Whiterock parades of a few years ago; or will it be Garvaghy Road, Ardoyne, Ormeau, because one or other community feels let down?

    It is most definitely “in the public interest” to let the public know.

    As for the rest of the legislation, its clear from the big faults in it that it was politicians who cobbled it together and not proper parliamentary drafts-people

  • Lionel Hutz

    Dissenter, it is true that it must take in all parades or public processions, it is less clear why every form of public assembly except funerals have to be included.

    It is the nature of the parade as a moving procession through certain areas that causes the contention.

  • Pete Baker

    I doubt the “agreed outcomes” are that specific.

    But they would, I suspect, identify political parties peddling mis-truths about their intentions.

    Not that we actually need the report to identify those mistruths in relation to the intentions of the legislation, as the text I’ve highlighted from the Hillsborough Agreement shows.

  • Lionel Hutz

    They will worm their way out of it as they always do.

  • Pete Baker

    More likely they’ll just keep repeating those same mistruths again, and again, and again.

    That’s the standard modus operandi