Fears mount over anti-Home Rule march after 'savage' Belfast rioting
THE RIOTING in north Belfast on Sunday, described as “savage” by a senior police officer, has raised concerns about whether a major Orange Order parade at the end of the month commemorating the centenary of the signing of the anti-Home Rule covenant will pass off peacefully.
There was further serious disorder last night in the Carlisle Circus area of the city and petrol bombs and other missiles were thrown at police. Water canon was used to disperse the crowd.
In Sunday night’s trouble 47 PSNI officers were injured during the violence that erupted in the same area and four officers needed hospital treatment.
The trouble reflected the tensions that have carried through from breaches of rulings by the Parades Commission during a loyalist parade outside St Patrick’s Catholic Church not far from Carlisle Circus on Saturday week and have also raised political tensions as politicians return to work at Stormont after the summer.
Senior police officers and several politicians condemned the violence that flared in the area. Local PSNI district commander Chief Supt George Clark described the attacks on his officers as “savage” and said that those responsible would be “held to account”.
The violence first erupted ahead of a legal republican band parade within a nationalist area of north Belfast in the afternoon and continued into the early hours of yesterday morning. Chief Supt Clark said the loyalists were responsible for starting the trouble, but that nationalists were later involved.
He said police were now investigating whether loyalist paramilitaries deliberately and premeditatedly provoked the trouble.
Local Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the violence was “clearly orchestrated” and members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association were involved.PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said he would brief the Department of Justice and Policing Board on the disturbances.
“We will continue to act as peacekeepers and to keep communities safe. However, others have a responsibility within the community and wider society to resolve the conflict and tensions surrounding parading,” he said.
The trouble has raised security and political anxieties ahead of the Orange Order centenary Ulster Covenant parade from Belfast City Hall to Stormont on Saturday, September 29th, which is expected to be one of the biggest loyal order parades witnessed in Northern Ireland in recent decades.
Some 20,000 Orangemen and 100 bands are scheduled to participate in the six-mile parade. One of the feeder marches to the main parade is due to pass by St Patrick’s Church in Belfast city centre. On Saturday week, bands participating in the Royal Black Institution parade defied a Parades Commission ruling not to play music at the church. The Shankill Road-based Young Conway Volunteers – the band involved in allegedly sectarian action at the church on the Twelfth – also broke a commission ruling banning it from marching past the church last Saturday week.
DUP Minister and north Belfast Assembly member Nelson McCausland refused to condemn the breaches, while ahead of the parade First Minister Peter Robinson and several other unionist politicians condemned the Parades Commission.
This in turn provoked a strong statement from the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor. He condemned the “provocative sectarianism” at the church and the “profoundly” disappointing decision of Mr Robinson and other politicians to condemn the commission.
“As we seek to build that more tolerant future together, all public anniversaries should be shaped as moments for courageous leadership and new vision, rather than for encouraging hatred or for creating the conditions which might provoke violence,” said Bishop Treanor.
An editorial in the Irish News reflected the concerns by warning of a potential “full-blown security crisis” at the mammoth Orange parade on September 29th and called on politicians to “put forward credible proposals which are capable of defusing the tensions”.
After a meeting of the Northern Executive yesterday evening, Minister for Justice David Ford said that First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness would be leading an initiative with the intention of resolving parading problems, the initial focus of which would be on north Belfast.