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Trade union fury at ‘37 days’ notice to protest’ plan


Trade unionists who protest against job cuts could face up to six months in prison

Trade unionists who protest against job cuts could face up to six months in prison

Trade unionists who protest against job cuts could face up to six months in prison

Trade unionists who protest against job cuts or paramilitary killings face up to six months in prison under proposed parades legislation for Northern Ireland, workers have warned.

Demonstrators outside workplaces as well as rallies such as those against the shooting dead of two soldiers and a policeman last year could be required to give 37 days' notice, according to plans.

A special meeting to support the campaign against the Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill will be held on Thursday night in Belfast.

A spokesman said: “The new legislation will severely restrict the ability of trades unionists, political activists, community and campaign groups to organise effective and spontaneous public demonstrations to highlight issues which often require a speedy and immediate public response at very short notice.

“Protest meetings such as those against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, solidarity vigils held to support the victims of racist attacks, or demonstrations such as those outside the BBC in relation to airtime being given to the BNP will all fall under the remit of the new law.”

Gatherings involving 50 or more people in public would be required to give 37 days' notification of their intentions. The legislation is designed to create a new and improved framework to rule on controversial marches, with a focus on local solutions, mediation and adjudication.

Nationalist residents oppose Orange Order processions in their areas because they view them as triumphalist. Members of the loyal orders accuse residents of going out of their way to be offended and maintain it is their traditional right to demonstrate.

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The spokesman said: “This legislation will impact upon and restrict the ability of trade unions and others to mobilise demonstrations in support of workers.”

He said a case in point was the mobilising at very short notice of rallies in support of the workforce at Belfast Visteon plant.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was asked about the bill in the Assembly yesterday.

“My appeal has to be to Assembly members, given what can be the fractious nature of dealing with these issues, is that we all have to approach this responsibly in a spirit of co-operation, try to lead by example and try to show people on the streets, whether it be people who wish to march or people who wish others not to march, that the sensible way forward is through dialogue, is through people coming together having reasonable discussions and coming to conclusions that all sides can live with,” he said.

“Given the tremendous progress that has been made over the course of the recent short while, none of that is beyond us.”

Public consulting on new draft law

Proposals for a new way to deal with contentious parades in Northern Ireland are currently out for public consultation.

The Draft Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill includes plans for two new bodies to replace the Government-appointed Parades Commission.

First, an office where people can apply for permission to hold a parade or a protest. Second, an adjudication body to decide what happens in disputes.

It envisages a new focus on dialogue between rival groups to avoid violence.

Under a code of conduct, residents will have the right to live free from sectarian harassment while it will be illegal to block a lawful parade.

Marchers and protesters will be expected to take part in dialogue and a refusal to do so will be taken into account.

Under the plans Justice Minister David Ford would be given the power to ban a parade.

The adjudication body will consist of 11 people, who will split into two panels of five to consider individual parades.

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