Call for NIO intervention over flouting of parade law
JUSTICE minister David Ford has said Westminster may need to intervene over loyalist parades being given the go-ahead despite organisers refusing to identify themselves.
The number of sensitive parades where organisers were not properly named on application forms has rocketed from only two in 2012 to more than 170 last year.
However, none of the marches were refused by the Parades Commission and no-one has been prosecuted despite the commission referring almost 70 per cent of cases to police.
The details were revealed by The Irish News yesterday amid concerns that loyalists are now routinely refusing to sign parade application forms to avoid liability for those that turn unlawful or violent.
Under the law those planning to hold public processions are required to fill out an '11-1' form giving notice of the event.
Mr Ford said he was not surprised that parades applications not being filled out correctly had caused concern.
He said that because parading issues are not devolved, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) may need to act.
"If we cannot agree on the devolution of parading matters to here, a legal remedy might be required from the Northern Ireland Office," the minister said.
"There have been discussions with the Northern Ireland Office about ensuring that the legislation is brought up to the mark in an ideal way."
However, the NIO last night said the accepting of parade notification forms were "operational matters" for the PSNI and Parades Commission.
On Monday the PSNI confirmed it would take no action against loyalists who failed to properly fill out a form for a controversial parade through Belfast city centre last month.
Mr Ford told the assembly on Tuesday he would prefer if the assembly took responsibility for parading legislation.
"However, if the assembly is not in a position to do so, I would certainly wish to discuss some of the practical outworkings of the difficulties of the legislation with the Northern Ireland Office to see what it and the secretary of state are prepared to do to deal with the issue," the South Antrim MLA said.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said parades without correctly completed application forms should not be permitted.
"Sinn Fein have raised this issue with the Parades Commission and the leadership of the PSNI," the North Belfast MLA said.
"We believe that if the application form is not completed correctly then it shouldn't be accepted and the march should not get the go-ahead."
DUP MLA Paul Givan, who is chairman of the assembly's justice committee, said: "There is an obvious need for a new start to parading in Northern Ireland.
"The current system has patently failed and the DUP wants to see it replaced."
The NIO said in a statement: "Processes for accepting parade notification forms are operational matters for the PSNI and the PCNI (Parades Commission), operating independently of government.
"In accordance with the legislation, the NIO keeps the operation of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 under regular review.
"The secretary of state remains hopeful that the ongoing all-party talks will result in the establishment of locally-agreed arrangements for parading in Northern Ireland."