A working group has been established by OFMDFM and tasked with preparing a report on a new and improved framework for regulating public assemblies. This will mean a new start, a new system and a new structure for parades and protests. The group has six members, three of whom are DUP MLAs and three of whom are Sinn Fein MLAs. The report has to be completed within a few weeks and so we are meeting every weekday, Monday to Friday. Submissions have been invited from the other political parties in the Assembly and also from other stakeholders such as the Loyal Orders, bands, parades forums and residents groups. The report will inform the development of new draft legislation, which will then go out to public consultation. The legislation will then pass through the Assembly with the intention that it will receive Royal Assent in December. The new and improved framework will replace the Parades Commission, which has been heavily criticised by many unionists and nationalists.
There is a long tradition of parades by the Loyal Orders, one that stretches back several hundred years, and the parades are a unique aspect of the cultural wealth of Ulster. The colour and pageantry, the music of the bands, and the artistry of the banners all contribute to the special character and the popularity of the parades.