Public Order Act (Northern Ireland) 1951
|Long title||An Act to make certain provision with respect to the maintenance of public order and the prevention of disturbance of public meetings, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.|
|Chapter||1951 c. 19|
|Related legislation||Public Meeting Act 1908, Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954; Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987|
The Public Order Act (Northern Ireland) 1951 (1951 c. 19) was an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The Act concerned meetings and 'non traditional' parades, although a 1970 amendment considerably broadened the Act's scope to include paramilitary groups and weaponry.
Contents of the Act
The first section of the Act required any person or persons organising a public procession to give 48 hours' notice to a senior officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The only exceptions were funeral processions and 'public processions which are customarily held along a particular route'. Failing to give notice was an offence against the Act. If the any senior RUC officer decided that the procession might lead to a breach of the peace or serious public disorder, he could order the route to be changed. If the Minister of Home Affairs felt that this would not be sufficient to prevent serious disorder, he could make an order banning any or all parades in that area.
The Act also made it an offence to say or do anything insulting, threatening or abusive at a public meeting or procession; to display anything which would be likely to cause a breach of the peace; or to act in a disorderly manner during a lawful public meetings for the purpose of preventing the purpose of the meeting. Anyone convicted of an offence under the Act could be fined up to ₤500 or be imprisoned for up to two years, depending on which section the offence was under and the nature of the offence.
The Act was amended in 1970, in response to the beginning of the Troubles. The amendment made it an offence to knowingly take part in an illegal procession or meeting; increased the notice required to 72 hours; made it an offence to attempt to prevent, hinder or annoy a legal procession; and made it an offence to sit, kneel or lie in a public place to hinder any lawful activity. When considering whether to re-route a parade, the RUC were required to have regard to 'the desirability of not interfering with a public procession customarily held along a particular route'. Maximum fines and prison terms for lesser offences under the Act were increased. The amendment also banned the wearing of uniforms signifying membership of any political organisation or support for a political aim, except at the discretion of the Minister of Home Affairs; specifically banned the formation of paramilitary associations; and banned the carrying of offensive weapons in public places.
Repeal of Act
The Act was repealed by the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, an Order in Council made by the British government during the period of direct rule. The new legislation removed the 'traditional processions' exemption and required all parade organisers to give seven days notice to the RUC.
The Act took over the governance and control of parades in Northern Ireland from the 1922 Special Powers Act. Although it was never defined what constituted a 'customary' parade, most commentators agree that the clause exempting these parades privileged Orange Order and other Protestant/loyalist marches, since under the Special Powers Act these had generally been allowed to go wherever they liked, whereas nationalist and republican parades had been restricted to Catholic-dominated areas. Although loyalist parades were occasionally banned before the beginning of the Troubles, this was very unusual and tended to do severe career damage to the Minister who enacted the ban. Once the Troubles broke out, the Act was used to ban all parades in Northern Ireland for several periods from 1969 to 1972. It remained relatively unusual for loyalist parades to be specifically banned, although their re-routing became much more common.
- Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan, 'Green Parades in an Orange State: Nationalist and Republican Commemorations and Demonstrations from Partition to the Troubles, 1920-1970', in T.G. Fraser, ed., The Irish Parading Tradition: Following the Drum, London and New York, 2000, p.102.