Belfast Telegraph

Santa tangles with bureaucracy after his traditional route nearly falls foul of Northern Ireland's Parades Commission

By Ivan Little

Globetrotting gift-giver Father Christmas has denied being out of step with the Parades Commission over Northern Ireland's controversial marching laws.

And a local council which booked Santa Claus for a series of festive celebrations has insisted that the bearded benefactor didn't put a foot wrong, or that there was ever a risk that St Nicholas might be nicked for taking part in an illegal parade.

The Causeway Coast and Glens council said it stuck to all the clauses in the commission's rulebook after recruiting Santa to switch on Christmas tree lights in a series of towns and villages in their area.

The Belfast Telegraph was contacted last week after Father Christmas travelled through Portstewart in a horse-drawn carriage on his way to turn on the yuletide lights in the Crescent.

A caller said the council hadn't notified the Parades Commission about what he called 'a procession'.

And that was confirmed by the commission, which said: "The commission did not receive any notice of a proposed parade in Portstewart on Saturday, December 10, 2016.

"Organisers of any proposed public procession should be aware there is a legal requirement to submit advance notice of their proposed event to the PSNI, who ensure a copy is immediately sent to the commission. "

But the council said it didn't notify the commission because it didn't have to.

The council said that no notification was needed for the Portstewart event - because it wasn't actually a parade.

But it confirmed that it had informed the commission about switch-ons in Coleraine and Limavady on the November 19 and 25 respectively.

That begged the question of what does and does not constitute a parade, but it would appear that the council's different approaches were all down to horses for courses

In a statement, the council said it had worked closely with the PSNI's events unit and made contact with them regarding the completion of an '11/1 parades form for any of their Christmas lights switch on festivities which included a parade element.'

The council said an 11/1 was submitted for the use of the horses and the dray in Limavady and more consultations were held about the nature of the event in Coleraine six days later.

The statement added that following those consultations with the PSNI it was agreed that what made an 11/1 necessary for Coleraine was a 'substantial parade element to the event on the public roads.' - elements which included a band, the horses and dray, plus 100 children.

In Portstewart, Clydesdale horses pulled a dray containing Santa and the local mayor, Maura Hickey, through a number of side streets and roads and right along the promenade, preceded by a fire engine and a number of PSNI officers who were on foot. Hundreds of revellers packed the town for the celebrations, but the council said it was told that an 11/1 was not required for Portstewart because 'the horse and dray was travelling along the public road and was constituted as a vehicle.'

The statement said that the Fire Service only ever partakes in events in Portrush and Portstewart if available to do so.

Belfast Telegraph


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