Street preachers 'should stick to church' Sinn Féin mayor says following 'hate crime' complaints
STREET preachers should confine their proselytising to church, a Sinn Féin mayor has said.
The PSNI is investigating complaints that comments made by evangelical preachers in Banbridge amounted to hate crimes.
It is understood that comments referred to gay people, children with disabilities and their parents.
One woman told the Banbridge Chronicle she was appalled by the "language, content and volume".
Kevin Savage, the Sinn Féin mayor of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council, said some of the preaching was "bordering on the offensive".
"It has been raised on social media before," he told The Irish News.
"People want to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon to relax and maybe have a coffee, they don't want to be preached at.
"We have freedom of speech but if you want to preach, do it in a church or church hall where you have a willing audience."
He said the regulation of street preachers is a "grey area".
"Police are going to have to look at what's been said to see if it is a hate crime," he said.
"It is obviously vexing people here and needs addressed. It's not about curtailing free speech, it's about people being able to go about their business without that distraction."
PSNI Chief Inspector Barney O'Connor said police had received several reports about preachers in Banbridge.
"These have been recorded as hate incidents," he said.
"There is currently no specific hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland. If a person if found guilty of a crime which in the opinion of the court was motivated by hate, the sentence may be enhanced.
"Whilst something is said by one person is perceived as offensive by another, it may not necessarily be a criminal offence."
A spokesman for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said it has "no remit over the regulation and permitting of street preaching".
"We can confirm the council's Environmental Health department have received a number of complaints regarding the noise pollution aspect of this activity and will be investigating this matter further," he said.
"Council is aware that the PSNI have also received a number of reports in relation to street preachers in the Banbridge area, which are currently under investigation."