Parades Organisers throughout Northern Ireland may have had high hopes that they would see the demise of the Parades Commission. Unfortunately, the Draft Bill and Draft Code of Conduct impose numerous new requirements on Parades Organisers and further restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as applied to parades.
While the current Parades Commission is to be abolished, two new regulatory bodies will be established: a new Commission to adjudicate and an OFMDFM Administrative Unit.
New ‘rights’ will be introduced: ‘the right to be protected from sectarian harassment’ and the protection of ‘sensitive locations’. Once in operation these new rights are likely to generate further restrictions and difficulties for Parades Organisers.
There will be new ‘appointees’ at different stages of the process: mediators, monitors and evaluators. These new persons will make reports to the new Commission, which will also take into account reports from previous years when adjudicating.
The regulatory process will be made more complex through multiple stages and Parades Organisers will be constrained to fulfil many more requirements than is the case under the current legislation with the Parades Commission.
Parades Organisers will also be subject to new offences, and failure to comply with the demanding Code of Conduct could be used by objectors to justify their concerns and by the new Commission to impose additional requirements on future parades.
The desire to see the Parades Commission replaced should not become a pretext for consenting to the enforcement of new legislation that would inevitably result in further restricting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Northern Ireland.
(For further information please read the complete analysis on the Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill and the Draft Code of Conduct in the section for submissions)