Some things are hard to believe and I’m struggling with this one. On 20 April, the First and Deputy First Minister published a draft bill about assemblies, parades and protests. In brief it says if fifty or more people plan to gather in a public area, they’ll have to give thirty-seven days’ notice.
The first group you think of when you read something like this is the Orange Order. Anything that would help encourage that lot to think again about their essentially anti-Catholic organization and marches which flaunts its existence in areas which are opposed to it, is welcome. No one has yet explained how this proposed bill would do that but I’m certainly open to being informed.
The snag is, it won’t simply catch Orange bigots in its net. It’ll affect trade unions, campaign groups – anybody or group who wants to express their legitimate views. Particularly in these times when governments are flexing their muscles to make deep, painful cuts in public services, it’s outrageous that a bill might be passed that would restrict people from expressing their views on such cuts. What’s more, if this proposed law had been in place, the demonstration of solidarity with the Roma people attacked by bonehead loyalists would have been impossible, as would the occupation of Visteon factory, demonstrations against water charges, and loads and loads more. The penalty if found guilty? Up to six months in prison and/or a hefty fine.
I’m not wildly surprised that the DUP have been involved in such a bill – their attitude to working people is pitiful. Why else would they keep supporting an education system which penalizes Protestant working-class dhildren more than any other group? I’m frankly astonished that Sinn Fein should have been involved in such a bill, given its strong working-class community roots.
What can you do? You could contact your local MLA, or even your non-local MLA, and let them know that you’d like to hear the argument for such a bill. Until someone provides me with evidence to the contrary, it stinks.