In his Irish News column this week Brian Feeney is mostly correct in his response to the, DUP/Sinn Féin drafted, contentious “Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill“.
Where he’s wrong is in his assertion that “The problem to be confronted under the terms of the Hillsborough Agreement was Orange marches – and only 5 per cent of them”.
As I’ve pointed out previously, the Hillsborough Agreement actually tasked the working group on parades with attempting “to create a new improved framework for the management and regulation of public assemblies including parades and related protests. [added emphasis]”
That places responsibility for the contentious draft Bill firmly in the hands of the leaderships of both parties, not the subsequent working group, and in the negotiations which led to the Hillsborough Agreement [pdf file].
Here’s what Brian Feeney does get right
What the DUP and Sinn Féin have done is make fatal errors in logic and in legislative practice. They have turned the conventional arrangement for assembly and protest on its head and incredibly have made the exception the rule. They have argued from the particular to the general, a cardinal error. They have taken the one exceptional circumstance that causes the problem, loyal order demonstrations, and made it the yardstick for all parades, assemblies and protests. Trade unions and some political groups claim the bill is a plot to prevent freedom of expression. Nothing so clever. Yes, it would prevent freedom of expression but it’s not a plot, it’s the result of stupidity and a determination to cut a political deal at any cost. [added emphasis]
And responsibility for the result of that “stupidity” and “determination to cut a political deal at any cost” lies, as I’ve mentioned above, with the leaderships of both parties in the run-up to the Hillsborough Agreement.
An agreement which also commits the NI First and deputy First Ministers to “[promoting and supporting] the agreed outcomes of the working group”, as well as “[supporting] all necessary steps in the Assembly to ensure that the Bill completes all stages before the end of 2010.”
Bear all that in mind as I give almost the last word, for now, to Brian Feeney
However, relax. The 1998 Northern Ireland Act renders incompetent any Stormont legislation outside the European Convention. The bill so obviously contravenes Human Rights legislation it will never become law, or if it does it will be struck down.
Apart from the fact that the bill is beyond the legal authority of the executive and would prevent freedom of assembly it’s unworkable because of the bureaucracy it requires of the organisers of the simplest open air function.
What is a disgrace is that Sinn Féin is advocating the most repressive legislation in Europe as the price of a dirty deal with the DUP and that not a single SF MLA has the guts to stand up and say so.
Even though the bill in its present form will fail the fact that Sinn Féin is proposing such a stream of drivel, regardless of the consequences, merits nothing but scorn and contempt.