U-turn over Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill?

The Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers have published a very short summary of the responses [pdf file] to the consultation on their jointly drafted Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill [pdf file].  That’s the draft Bill “built on ignorance of the law, plain stupidity, arrogance, and worst of all, political expediency.”

We’ll have to wait to see the detail of the reported amendments being proposed.

But let’s be clear about one thing.

When the First Minister says

“The primary change will be the removal of all public meetings from the remit of the legislation. The public consultation process indicated concern that open-air and other similar public meetings would be captured by the legislation. This was not the intention and this amendment will absolutely clarify this.” Furthermore, we intend to address any confusion about the references to human rights in the legislation to make clear that these references indicate a framework based on the European Convention of Human Rights.”[added emphasis]

He is being economical with the actualité.

As I pointed out previously, the remit of the working group on parades, as noted here, included all public assemblies – 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]

As for Jeffrey Donaldson’s comment that “This decision is sensible and the improved Bill will be welcomed by many across the Province”.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?  After all, he jointly chaired the working group…

But does “[limiting the legislation] in application to parades and related protest meetings” make it any less offensive to the human rights lobby?

Adds  Peter Robinson isn’t the only one being disingenuous about the draft Bill…

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  • Neil

    I think when the PSNI started taking the piss out of the proposals (saying they’d have to arrest people for attending large BBQs) it became abundantly clear that they needed to narrow their scope. It was a ridiculous document in the first place, quite worrying to be honest, that it didn’t occur to someome at some point that lumping contentious parades in along with every other public meeting was a bad idea.

  • Damian O’Loan

    If it has been accepted that the proposals were futile due to the entirely reasonable human rights framework in the domain of assemblies generally, I see no reason as to why they should gain legitimacy when applied specifically to assemblies in a certain situation. All this revision appears to do is decrease the number of vested interests in opposition – it doesn’t make the proposals coherent or constructive.

    It points to a wider problem with the quality of legislation produced, and not produced, at Stormont. Which has two primary causes – the structure of the legislative process applied on a two-party axis, and the individuals involved. You also have to ask what civil service advice was received and how. There should be some accountability for the gross incompetence displayed throughout this fiasco.

    Having accepted these amendments, it has to be back to the drawing board. I hope within a more inclusive and better informed framework for decision-making.

  • I’d be skeptical that even if they did manage to reword it to make it more acceptable, they’ll just end up splitting hairs over what does or does not fall within the remit of the legislation.

    The real solution to the parading issue is not a process of permission slips, but a presumption of good faith with stiff penalties for any infraction of the law. Remember that contentious parades are not isolated incidents – they are usually annual affairs that involve the same organisers and participants each time. If particular individuals or groups (say, a band) are found to be in breach of public order, the appropriate response is a 12-month (or greater) ban on participation.

  • fathomline

    Brian Feeney took the bill and its political provenance apart forensically in his article on 4th August. It doesn’t set out to deal with contentious parades, it is based purely on the DUP’s political need to accommodate the Orange Order’s demand for abolition of the Parades Commission. That demand was not built on any reasonable critique of the Commission, any demonstration of how exactly it is ‘deeply flawed’, but plain and simple rejection of the body that has prevented it getting down the Garvaghy Road. There were some positive ideas lurking in the bill, but they were incidental to its main purpose and they could all be achieved by beefing up the Commission and giving it or some parallel body the task of promoting dialogue and local solutions. But it was the need to rob the Commission of its adjudicating role that led the DUP and Sinn Fein into the ridiculous position of proposing adjudication on everthing that moves and much that doesn’t. And that hasn’t gone away you know. But the really astounding thing is that Sinn Fein, whose president of course founded and led the Civil Rights movement, could end up proposing something that even Bill Craig never tried. John O’dowd’s claim that the campaign of opposition was all a fuss about nothing (http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/39935) is particularly delicious in the light of this latest announcement

  • “less offensive to the human rights lobby”

    Ah, yes, the human rights lobby!! If my rights were in danger I’d rather take my chances with the somewhat ineffective agencies of state justice than those who appeared to be more interested in protecting the rights of paramilitaries than the rights of their victims. Perhaps ‘offensive human rights lobby’ is a more appropriate epithet.

  • “We recognise that support from all sides of the community has the potential”

    What utter drivel. Support from all sides is rather less likely than a blue moon.

  • maeglin

    Damian – i understand the draft bill was actually drafted by Westminster drafters not stormont and is therefore of the same quality as any other legislation. You disagree with the policy not the drafting so just say that instead of criticising professionals who have done the best job they can. Can you point out an example of bad drafting in this? All legislation will sometimes have unintended consequences such as the vintage car rallies being covered by the first parades legislation. That is not necessarily bad drafting.

    Furthermore, Nelson McCausland made it clear that they had made a decision that 50+ would knock out open-air services since they rarely had more than that number attending. This was not a view shared by the churches so it was changed. But it was a policy decision not a drafting quirk.

    In relation to public meetings generally – why should the trade unions or other protest groups block roads, disrupt traffic etc yet they hypocritically want the loyal orders to have to apply for permission to do so. That is sectarian and deeply hypocritical.

  • bemused – again

    So the great minds in OFMDFM have scrapped a key plank of their ridiculous suggestion and still claim success! But what of the rest of the nonsense inthe proposals?

    All this is, is a parades commission mk III. Deckchairs on the Titanic.

    Nothing in these proposals will prevent Ardoyne again. Nothing here enhances or supports mutual respect or tolerance. After 15 years of all out conflict on parades our politicians have just admitted that the current process, with all the inbuilt bias and probelms is the best it’s goona get – plain and simple pure cr*p

  • Pete Baker

    Adds Peter Robinson isn’t the only one being disingenuous about the draft Bill…

  • jon the raver

    Its a joke there are rights and laws in place already – when public assemblies become riots then the police should step in.

    This parades document was supposed to address contentious parades all it has done is give every type of gathering a contentious element – thus normalising the Orange order and the Ardoyne rioters

  • joeCanuck

    Disingenuous and provocative over the Loyal Orders though it is factually correct that that’s what kicked this off. He would have done better saying nothing.

  • joeCanuck

    In relation to your penultimate sentence, who is they?

  • Damian O’Loan

    “i understand the draft bill was actually drafted by Westminster drafters not stormont and is therefore of the same quality as any other legislation.”

    It doesn’t matter who drafted it, what’s significant is that the quality was poor. It wasn’t of the same level of quality as other legislation simply due to the geography of its drafters. That’s evident in this first u-turn. My inference was that there were people who saw this coming but weren’t listened to. You could enlighten us on that perhaps.

    There may be some justifiable cases of unintended consequences. This is not one. The process was clearly rushed and exclusive – exclusive to a group that acted incompetently. Since drafting should be done according to policy, it’s important not to distinguish the two completely. And it’s important not to forget the circumstances of the process’ origin at Hillsborough. Another exclusive, undemocratic piece of horse-trading. Please don’t try to pass that episode, or its outworking, off as good or normal governance.

    Which is all of interest to the taxpayer because passing legislation is an extremely costly process.

  • Munsterview

    This proposed legislation is bad, period, and any amount of tinkering around the edges or PR spin can or will change that fact.

    Civil Rights, such as they are North, South and across the water were hard got and we should be looking of ways to strenghten these rights, not diminishing and weakening the limited amount that are there.

    I have constantly made the point here that not one street protest or public meeting that Sinn Fein organized on their route to power would have conformed to these requirements. If Cooney and Co had tried on something like this and any of the then Sinn Fein National Exectuive had proposed compiling with it, they would have been given a quick exit from Kevin St………. via the first floor meeting room window!

    This legislation not comes under the ‘sledge hammer to crack a nut’ category, it is using a steam roller to do it and and the fact that the driver has a provisional license do not make it any more acceptable.

    Legization that enhance human freedoms is seldom emulated by State institutions: restrictive legalization however frequently is; the proposed laws are not just a threat to the Six County Assembly administered area, they are a threat to all regions on these Islands where, if emulated, they will be used against miners protests and goodness knows what else.

    How useful this would have been to Tatcher and Major to deal with the ‘Troops Out Movement’ at it’s peak if they had what is proposed at their disposal !

    This one should be put down to experience and the entire proposals scrapped. In the alternative those proposing it should be forced to do just that.

    I for one did not spend most of my adult life assisting Northern Colleagues in their struggle against the State for some of these same people to now assist the Southern State in restricting my own personal freedoms.

    Make no mistake about it, this will be the inevitable outcome of the passing of such leglalization; Ahern or some other cyper for the Dep. Of Injustice will be advocating the need for ‘harmonization’ the following monday morning after it is passed, if it will be. Can Sinn Fein honestly say that there has been no contact at sectariat or other civil servant level with the South on what is proposed?

    I would be surprised, very surprised indeed if this has not already happened !

  • No, the police should step in before an assembly becomes a riot. There exist offences such as “behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace” which haven’t been enforced against Orange marches. Was anyone ever arrested or punished for chanting slogans outside Sean Graham’s on the Ormeau Road? Even an internal investigation by the Orange would have been a start, but the refrain has always been “we aren’t responsible for the conduct of individuals”. That mentality has to change. Football hooliganism legislation would be a better model to follow.

  • Procrasnow

    a few thoughts

    How much public money has been spend on the silly draft document?

    will those intelligent people who drafted it be kept in employment?

    It is as stupid as having a finance minister trying to balance the provinces books when the political party from whence he comes cannot keep it’s finances in the black,

  • Drumlin Rock

    Andrew, there was an investigation and action taken against those who acted disgracefully outside Sean Grahams I believe, was quite a few years ago so cant remember the details, I think it is an indication of how rarely the parades themselves cause a problem that you have to go back that far in time to find an example.

  • Drumlin Rock

    I generally agree with you there Munster, although might not have used the same examples 🙂

  • wj

    Regarding the drafters of the legislation, I’m led to believe that a certain Stephen Leach, former Associate Director of Security and Policing at the NIO or “securocrat” as was the term used in certain circles, may have had a hand in it.
    I also am told the same Mr Leach earns quite a salary these days as a “consultant” employed by OFMdFM.
    That would appear to be quite a turn-up for the book.

  • joeCanuck

    It doesn’t matter in the least who wrote the formal Bill. He or she was acting on instructions, point form list or whatever, and there is no hiding behind civil servants.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Interesting post, notwithstanding the accuracy of joeCanuck’s response. It raises a few questions:

    1. Are you suggesting that the drafting of legislation is being outsourced?

    2. What other companies/organisations are his consultancy services offered/provided to?

    3. Do you have any evidence you could share here or elsewhere?

  • Munsterview

    This gets harder to stomach for Republicans with every new revelation. If Sinn Fein are setting out to test the ‘last straw’ theory with their general supporters and the nationalist population, they are getting there fast!

    What is next….. a few ex-para ‘consultants’ working with the city of culture to make sure their side of the story is also on record ?

    As for this ‘securocrat’ may I remind all on the SF side that a certain ambassator was send to ‘Kingdom Come’ on ‘securocrat’ connections a hell of a lot less transparent than this!

    Associate Directorof Security and Poliecing at the NIO……… who witnessed or can vouch for his de-commissioning ?

  • USA

    Agreed Neil.

  • Re-engaged

    Feeling less engaged – why is Punt still in office?

  • maeglin

    what utter utter tosh.

    The public meetings issue came from the Ashdown recommendations and was therefore a policy decision to be drafted by the bill drafters (as presumably agreed by all the working group members). McCausland’s comments make clear that it was believed that the 50+ figure would knock out the likes of small protests and open-air services (which it probably would) furthermore the legislation only envisaged when it was anticipated that 50 or more would turn up. Hence the fact that the suggestion these would be covered was an un anticipated consequence/fear. There was also an emergency procedure to facilitate quick protests etc. Clearly the vast majority of people still felt concerned about it and the 50+ figure was changed to remove public meetings entirely.

    What’s will all the “securocrat” crap?? In terms of the controversial aspects of this, which part wasn’t in the Ashdown report/recommendations?

  • maeglin

    …it should also be pointed out that i understand that the DUP position is that they don’t want any regulation or imposition on any public assemblies except in the most extreme of circumstances. This process is being pushed by resident’s groups and others who are just too damn intolerant to respect the cultural identity and expression of that by others.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Read the post:

    “As I pointed out previously, the remit of the working group on parades, as noted here, included all public assemblies – 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]”

    No, this is neither normal nor good governance.

  • maeglin


    My point is that i don’t see this as a DUP/SF conspiracy. The original suggestion for the inclusion of public meetings came not from Hillsborough but from Ashdown…

    “We have concluded that our recommendations should
    encompass a wider range of public assemblies than
    only public processions. The proposals contained in
    this report should apply to all public assemblies of 15
    or more people, all public processions and all related
    protests on the public highway.” Ashdown Interim Report

    The number in the public assembly actually increased from 15 to 50 in this bill.

  • Damian O’Loan

    The Ashdown report was no model of democratic participation. It was conducted, post SAA, on the DUP/SF axis. Look at its modus operandi.

    To divide it from Hillsborough is perhaps not useful. To suggest either are examples of good governance is absurd. This problem needs to be resolved a participative approach, for which people will need to know about the application of reconciling these conflicting rights.

    The media have a role to play here. When did you last hear international experts talk about what happens with events like football matches, public demonstrations, strike actions… There are thousands of people who spend their lives thinking about these things and we don’t listen to any of them, nor discuss what they have to say.

    But a DUP/SF axis, guided by Ashdown or not, is not going to solve this problem alone.

  • Munsterview

    “………But a DUP/SF axis, guided by Ashdown or not, is not going to solve this problem alone…….”


    I am not as well informed in the specifics of interface clashes as I could be but it would appear from my knowledge of the overall situation if the few contentious parades and collateral rioting incidents arising from these disputed parades are exemped, then what events are left that merit this clumsy, heavy handed, unnecessary approach?

    This is not good governance, I personally cannot see the proposed legalization solving any of the problems arising from the OO parades but I can see it presenting a plethora of other predictable and unforeseen ones.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere on postings on the threads devoted to this subject, the existing laws from the considerable raft available dealing with assemblies have have not been fully used much less exhausted. Given this fact the rare co operation of SF and the DUP in attempting to railroad this through must raise the questions….. ‘Why this and why now’ ?

    I have not seen any credible answers so far !

  • wj

    1. Merely highlighting the fact that it appears strange that the same man in his previous security and policing role authored the infamous “gameplan document” of 1997 which had disastrous results for Garvaghy Road. One wonders why Mr McGuinness (as one half of the FMfFM duality) agreed to employ him in relation to the drafting to this legislation.
    And of course, let’s not forget his consultancy role during the equally embarassing Bill of Rights fiasco.
    2. He is discribed lately as a retired senior civil servant, and was Chair of the Justice Board for over eight years. Prior to that, he held a range of posts in the NIO and other Departments. He was awarded a CB in the 2007 Birthday Honours List. He is currently a non-executive director of the Health and Social Care Board for which he receives an annual allowance of £8,827; and a Parole Commissioner, for which he receives £343 per day worked. Last month he was appointed as a non-exective member to the board of the Fire and Rescue Service at the rate of £5,845. All in all, a tidy little sinecure is being built up for him.
    3. None that could be legitimately shared but a few questions asked in the big house or by written requests to appropriate ministers might provide illuminating.

  • Tony

    This is the DUP’s sorry mess. Sinn Fein got their justice minister and the DUP got this.

    I see Rev Brian Kennaway has a new website. He’s quite an authority on all things Orange. http://www.bkennaway.com

  • Pigeon Toes


    “Jeffrey Donaldson then came out to say that ‘lots of people will welcome the changes’. Er…no. Lots of people would prefer that wee Jeffrey’s nasty little regime at Stormont left people with some personal freedoms, rather than legislating against their right to assemble, or do anything else. LESS legislation is what is required, at all times and in all circumstances, not more.

    Peter Robinson says ‘well, the original meaning is not what we meant’, or words to that effect. This raises two points.

    1. Why the fuck was the wording so crap to begin with, and are those who worded it still employed?


    2. It’s a bunch of crap coming out of Robinson’s mouth anyway. If there hadn’t been opposition to the wording, it’s a fair bet that the original meaning would have been EXACTLY what was meant.”