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Scrap the Public Assemblies Bill (Northern Ireland)

Comment 7th July 2010

The Public Assemblies Bill in Northern Ireland should be halted and re-thought. It is intended as a new means of leglislating against contentious parades. However, it has been poorly thought out – it will negatively affect many other things and actually prevent democratic protest (or at least severely restrict its efficacy).

Why does this matter?

On the 20th April 2010 the First Minister (Peter Robinson) and Deputy First Minister (Martin McGuinness) published draft legislation in the form of the “Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill”. If the Bill becomes law, ALL gatherings involving 50 or more people, and which take place in any “public space” will be required to give 37 days prior notice.

If this Bill becomes law it will be one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in the whole of Europe in relation to the right to free assembly. It will affect the rights of every single person to organise themselves collectively as workers, trade unionists, community campaigners and political activists.

Legitimate protests will have to be organised almost 40 days in advance. Many protests and gatherings are much more hastily arranged than this, and 37 days will significantly take the steam and passion out of people. When you are passionate – you want to do something NOW. If the process is that "You decide you want to do something. You have to arrange 37 days in advance." by the time it comes around the moment is gone.

I am not suggesting we don't come up with a solution to contentious parades. However, overly-flexible leglislation such as this will be used to oppress in a wide-range of other situations; this cannot be allowed!


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