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New parades law will affect civil liberties

As we enter this current round of what is euphemistically the 'marching season', the Public Assemblies, Parades, and Protest Bill consultation continues unreported.

To anyone interested in personal or public civil liberties, this must be the most obnoxious piece of proposed legislation for a generation. How our society has come to the point where, due to disputes orchestrated for political purposes, the whole of Northern Ireland society must seek permission from the new Parades Commission to collectively sneeze.

While some may be sleepwalking, blindly believing the current proposals will only affect those who seek to march or protest, the remit and the interference of this new legislation will go far beyond the Orange Order and residents' groups.

Leaving aside the proposed mechanisms, 37-day notification etc, and only concentrating on the scope of the Bill, any public or potentially private assembly, outdoors, that involves 50 or more people will have to seek permission.

Church fetes, school barbeques, charity fundraisers, society get-togethers - if the public, or a section of the public, is invited, whether on private property or not, whether a charge is made or not, all such events will be subject to this new law.

What amazes me though is the silence of civil liberties groups, churches and other ordinary day-to-day organisations that are going to be caught up in a solution to a problem they never had.

Just because some within our society cannot show mutual respect to each other is no reason for the rest of society to be restricted. The Public Assemblies, Parades and Protest legislation must be opposed.

RICHARD WILSON

Ballynahinch, Co Down

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