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July 2010 - New Parades Law A Danger To Free Assembly!

Fresh from gerrymandering the new Justice Ministry (remember No Nationalist Need Apply), the DUP / Sinn Fein coalition have now embarked on introducing new legislation on Public Assemblies ,Parades and Protests which will seriously threaten free assembly here in the North. This restrictive, indeed repressive legislation will mean that the ordinary expression of views by trade unions, community groups and political parties or anybody else, will be subjected to the worst restrictions ever imposed in Europe outside war time. Even Bill Craig, the former Unionist Minister for Home Affairs, would be embarrassed by these extensive restrictions on free speech and public assembly.

For example under the new DUP / SF law, in order to have a public protest outside the City Hall, say over the  attack on the Gaza aid convoy, you would have to file for permission 37 days before the intended event. In other words this dangerous and daft law would effectively prevent the spontaneous expression of political protest on any subject be it Gaza, or be it the sudden closure of a business, or factory. Everybody’s rights are now under threat, if this dangerous piece of legislation is passed through the Assembly by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

We in the SDLP will be opposing this bad law tooth and nail and call upon all organisations, especially trade unions and civil liberty groups to join us in opposing this  repressive legislation.

The body designed to be the watchdog for human rights, the NI Human Rights Commission, in their initial response to this draft law have severely criticised it and indeed have expressed their concern that, “some proposals are potentially incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which would render the legislation outside the legislative competence of the Assembly”. In other words it is so anti – human rights, that it would be illegal for the Assembly to pass it.

You may wonder why this legislation is being passed. Well the short answer is that the DUP demanded the abolition of the Parades Commission as part of the Hillsborough deal on the transfer of Policing and Justice. They wanted the ‘head’ of the Parades Commission on a plate. They are now getting that and more with the new repressive laws on public protests.

Remember this will not affect the Orange Order, who plans all their parades well in advance. For them 37 days is no bother. This, like the Justice Ministry, is another bad concession by an incompetent Sinn Fein to the DUP, in order to keep their joint political charade going in Stormont. Power matters more than principle.

At a public meeting last week in Ardoyne, held to discuss the 12th of July Parades, I raised the SDLP’s concerns about the new Parades legislation, only to be interrupted by a very angry Junior Minister, Gerry Kelly, (one of the authors of the new legislation), who insisted that I should be silenced and shouldn’t discuss this at the public meeting, as this was political! And so it is political, very political and nowhere will it affect people more than in Ardoyne.

The people of Ardoyne are fully entitled to free debate at a public meeting and a full examination of the issues on their terms, not Sinn Fein’s terms. As was evident at the meeting, people are tired of Sinn Fein dictating to the people.

The SDLP have throughout the years been consistent upholders of civil and human rights, whether it is in opposition to the Unionist government, the British army, the RUC, the Loyalists, or the Provos. We will not now be bullied, or cowed by the DUP / Sinn Fein coalition. We will expose this bad and unnecessary legislation, which will make parades and protests worse, not better and which will reduce your basic freedom of expression.

No wonder Gerry Kelly wanted me silenced for he is frightened by the people’s reaction, whenever they realise the consequences of his new legislation .First they gerrymandered the justice ministry, now they attack your right to public protest. What’s next, internment?

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