Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill

This is a question submitted by a member of the public using the ‘Ask a question‘ page.

If the Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill (Consultation Document) is passed it will mean the introduction of one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in NI in decades.
The draft legislation published by the First and Deputy First Ministers on April 20th, ostensibly to deal with the issue of contentious marches, will encompass all public meetings, demonstrations and protests involving trade unions, political activists, community organisations and various campaign groups.

Under the new legislation, ALL gatherings involving 50 or more persons and which take place in a “public space” will be required to give 37 days prior notification of their intention to hold such a gathering.

In the Explanatory Guide to the Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill, the all encompassing nature of the new laws is illustrated by way of an example which states that “if a group wanted to protest against the closure of a local sports facility….the group’s activity would fall under the definition of a public meeting and would therefore be subject to the notification procedures for a public assembly.”

The term ‘public space’ is defined in the legislation as meaning “any road or footway or any other place, apart from a building, to which the public or a section of the public has access”. Such a wide-reaching definition will include the grounds of both government and council buildings, or the grounds and entrances to factories, workplaces and public service establishments, such as schools and hospitals. Trade union demonstrations outside workplaces which involve more than 50 workers will therefore come under the new law’s remit.

This legislation will impact upon and restrict the ability of trade unions and others to mobilise demonstrations in support of workers. A case in point to illustrate this is the stance taken last year by trade unions, community groups and political parties of the left in mobilising rallies at very short notice in support of the workforce at the Visteon plant in Belfast.

Under the proposals set out in the legislation, 37-days advance notification must be given for such rallies and the organisers would also have to specify which trade unions or community groups would also be taking part. Failure to do so could result in jail terms of up to six months for the organisers and any participants.

The new legislation will severely restrict the ability of trades unionists, political activists, community and campaign groups to organise effective and spontaneous public demonstrations to highlight issues which often require a speedy and immediate public response at very short notice. Protest meetings such as those against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, solidarity vigils held to support the victims of racist attacks, or demonstrations such as those outside the BBC in relation to airtime being given to the BNP will all fall under the remit of the new law.

How can people within this Assembly support such a policy?

What is your view*?

*Comments submitted to this website (yourassembly.com) will not be included in the consultation. You can respond directly to the consultation via the nidirect website.

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