PSNI to enforce preacher permits under proposed council bye laws after complaints about preaching on LGBT issues

Belfast City Council is set to give powers to the PSNI to fine street preachers £500 if they use amplification systems without a council permit in the wider city centre.

Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 3:20 pm
Members of the LGBT community led by former Catholic Priest Pat Buckley (pictured with blue and white sign) hold a protest in Larne as Evangelical Christians where preaching in the town in August. Photo: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

All parties on the council’s Strategic Policy and Resource Committee agreed yesterday morning 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 will face the same fines.

The measures come after complaints about street preachers criticising homosexuality and pro-life and animal rights campaigners displaying graphic posters.

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The draft bye laws will now go before full council, where it is expected they will be passed, before going to statutory agencies for consultation.

DUP Alderman Brian Kingston said: “This is based on the view that the city centre - the primary retail core and wider city centre - is an important space and there is a need for some regulation, particularly if people are causing a nuisance.” Byelaws can be enforced by the police or council officers but warnings would be given first, he added.

Green councillor Mal O’Hara, a member of the LGBT community, said his party has wanted to regulate graphic imagery in the city for years. “And anybody who has been in the city centre in the past year has, I am sure, experienced extremist street preachers,” he said. “They try to dominate the public sphere to the detriment of others and consistently target minorities - in this case sexual orientation and gender identity minorities.”

But PUP councillor Dr John Kyle asked how requiring people to register for permits would change anything. “Will there be a limit on the volume?” he asked. “Are there restrictions on what can be said? And that is a serious problem if there is.” He also queried how judgements would be made on permits and who would “censor” photos on animal rights leaflets. “There is already legislation in place to deal with all these concerns - it just needs to be applied by the police”. He added that the Human Rights Act does not permit restrictions on freedom of expression in order to protect commercial interests.

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