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Blueprint for new parades body

20 April 10 16:10 GMT

Proposals for a new way to deal with contentious parades in Northern Ireland have been published.

They include plans for two new bodies to replace the Government-appointed Parades Commission.

The blueprint envisages a new focus on dialogue between rival groups to avoid violence seen in the past.

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.

The proposals confirm details revealed by BBC News last week.

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

A review of parading formed part of the Hillsborough Agreement.

The DUP and Sinn Fein set up a six-strong group to work on the matter following the deal in January.

Their brief was to propose a new and improved framework to rule on controversial marches, including a focus on local solutions, mediation and adjudication.

The current Parades Commission will be replaced by two new organisations.

First, an office where people can apply for permission to hold a parade or a protest.

Second, an adjudication body which will decide what happens in the event of a dispute.

The body will consist of 11 people, drawn from across the community, who will split into two panels of five to consider individual parades and protests.

The new arrangements would write into law people's right to live in freedom from sectarian harassment.

But it would also make it an offence to prevent or disrupt a lawful public assembly or parades.

There is an incentive for all sides to engage in dialogue - and failure to do so can be taken into account by the adjudication body.

The new minister for Justice, David Ford, would be given the power to ban a parade which currently rests with the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward.

However, he could only do this with the backing of both the first and deputy first ministers.

The NI First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness launched the public consultation on Tuesday.

Mr Robinson said: "Following the agreement reached at Hillsborough Castle on 5 February, we set a challenging timetable for the Working Group on Parades to produce a report.

"The group presented its report to us on 23 February."

Mr McGuinness said: "A consultation process across a range of stakeholders including public representatives and representatives of residents' groups has informed the report.

"We look forward to considering the comments and submissions received in response to the draft document in the coming months."

The public are being invited to give their view on the draft parading bill and code of conduct over the next 12 weeks.

Parading is a particularly contentious issue in Northern Ireland.

Nationalist residents in mainly working-class areas like north Belfast and Portadown, County Armagh, 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 on the streets.

Click here for consultation document

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