NI: Introduction of police powers before Black Lives Matter protests ‘purely coincidental’

NI: Introduction of police powers before Black Lives Matter protests 'purely coincidental'

The introduction of police powers used to fine dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters just hours before the protests began was “purely coincidental”, ministers have said.

Amnesty International and the Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) raised concerns earlier this month over the “last-minute amendment” of regulations at 11pm the night before the protests.

However, Gordon Lyons, junior minister in the Executive Office, yesterday rejected suggestions that “there was a conspiracy going on and that we had intentionally brought in changes to regulations to allow enforcement at a Black Lives Matter protest”.

Mr Lyons told MLAs that a “drafting error” in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Amendment No. 3) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 meant that it was not an offence to breach the restriction in regulation 6(a) relating to outdoor gatherings of up to six people.

The omission was “noticed and corrected on the same day” by way of a technical amendment included in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Amendment No. 5) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.

“I understand that the amendments had the effect of putting the PSNI in the position that they thought they had already been in with regard to regulation 6(a) from the evening of 19 May, since they were unaware of the drafting error until it was drawn to their attention on the afternoon of 5 June,” he said.

Amnesty and CAJ have called on MLAs to amend the regulations to allow people to exercise their human right to peaceful protest.

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