Much is being said about engagement between public procession organisers and those who oppose them, but little is known about what it actually entails.
Many believe that what is required of them by the Parades Commission is direct discussions between the procession organiser and people within the locality and that anything short of direct dialogue would be interpreted as falling short of meaningful engagement and would commensurably curtail the prospect of organising a public procession without restrictions being imposed on it.
In order to make the point clear as to what is required from the public procession organiser the Parades Commission was asked the following question in writing:
“Does the Parades Commission make it a requirement that face-to-face contact between the public procession organiser and people within the locality takes place in order to discuss issues related to the rights and freedoms of others?”
The written answer to this question provided by the Parades Commission is: “No”
So for years, most people have been led to believe that they had to engage in face-to-face dialogue with those representing residents groups in order to satisfy Parades Commission requirements. They were mistaken, as the Parades Commission now makes clear that this is not necessary.
The latest proposals from OFM/DFM go far beyond what the Parades Commission has stated, since they make:
- Dialogue between the procession organiser and the objector the first phase of the new regulatory process;
- The absence of participation in the phase of dialogue a factor that may be taken into account by the adjudicating body when making a decision in relation to restriction being imposed on a peaceful procession.
So why should public procession organisers give their consent to proposals that will only make the exercise of their fundamental rights more difficult?