Council U-turns on ‘permits for preachers’ scheme which would be enforceable by PSNI - concerns over LGBT issues and abortion posters

Political parties at Belfast City Council have had a unanimous change of heart regarding proposals to empower the PSNI to fine street preachers £500 if they use amplification systems without a permit in the wider city centre.

By Philip Bradfield
Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 4:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 10:00 am
Complaints have been lodged with Belfast City Council about street preachers in the city centre.
Complaints have been lodged with Belfast City Council about street preachers in the city centre.

Last month all parties on the council’s Strategic Policy and Resource Committee agreed to approve draft bye laws that would require preachers, protestors, buskers and anyone else using amplification systems in the wider city centre to apply for a permit or be fined £500 by the PSNI or council officers. Anyone setting up stalls with flyers without a permit would also face the same fines.

But after an animated debate at full council on Monday night, all parties were once again unanimous - but this time that the draft bye laws, which originated with the Green Party, required further consideration at committee level.

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PUP councillor John Kyle said the proposals were strongly opposed by the DUP, People Before Profit and the PUP. “But it was finally accepted by all parties that there were significant problems with it, particularly with restriction of freedom of expression,” he said. “What emerged was that some parties felt permits were necessary because of the perceived abuse that the LGBT community were receiving from some preachers and also the graphic images used by anti-abortion protestors.”

DUP Alderman Brian Kingston had initially supported the proposals in order to protect the commercial life of the city centre. However last night he said his party “remains to be convinced” that existing legislation is not sufficient to address the issues. “There are widespread concerns that a system about noise nuisance could be used to attempt censorship,” he added.

Green Councillor Mal O’Hara said any changes to bylaws will only happen after public consultation. “We are concerned that graphic imagery and extremist preachers make our city centre an unwelcoming space, and it is right that the Council’s byelaws are adapted to address this,” he added. “We had our own concerns about the original proposals being too broad, and we hope for a more nuanced approach to changing the byelaws. We look forward to striking the right balance between rights and responsibilities to make the city a safe space for everyone”.

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