Republican parade in Belfast peaceful despite ugly scenes
PSNI mounts major security operation to prevent serious disorder with loyalists
A republican parade in Belfast city centre passed off largely peacefully today. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A loyalist protester takes photographs at the march in Belfast today. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Police separate loyalist protesters from a republican parade in Belfast city centre this afternoon. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
There were ugly scenes in Belfast city centre this afternoon when a republican parade marking the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland passed along Royal Avenue, but the event passed reasonably peacefully.
Some loyalist protesters threw fireworks, plastic bottles, umbrellas and coins at the marchers as the parade made its way along Royal Avenue, which with the adjoining Donegall Place forms Belfast’s main shopping thoroughfare.
Police lines held back about 400 loyalists who were protesting against the parade of up to 4,000 republicans commemorating the introduction of internment by the unionist Stormont government in August 1971 - a move that escalated an already deteriorating political and security situation in Northern Ireland.
While several missiles were fired at the marchers, the march - which took ten minutes to process along Royal Avenue, the flashpoint of the parade - passed off relatively peacefully.
Last year there was serious violence during the same parade when 56 PSNI officers were injured after they were attacked by loyalist protesters.
The police were much better prepared for this parade. Some loyalists and republican marchers exchanged sectarian taunts and insults on Royal Avenue but there were no reports of any injuries.
Loyalists waved union flags from behind the police lines and blared loud airhorns, while in turn some of the republicans waved tricolours at the protesters.
A number of loyalists also sang the Famine song to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B with the words: “The Famine is over, why don’t you go home?”
There were several angry verbal exchanges between some protesters and marchers, with William Frazer of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (Fair) claiming a number of republicans issued taunts about IRA multi-killings such as at Kingsmill, Enniskillen and on the Shankill Road.
Asked about loyalists firing missiles he said, “It is unfortunate, it should not happen, but when you have people laughing and cheering about republican murders that is the sort of response you are going to get.”
Police mounted a major security operation to ensure there was no serious disorder. The term “ring of steel” almost had a literal meaning as Belfast city centre was totally cordoned off when the parade made its way down Royal Avenue. Even small roads around the city centre were blocked by large steel partitions.
Hundreds of police officers, many in full riot gear, mounted in the security operation, while two water cannons were also on hand, although they were not used.
There was a notable absence of Sinn Féin involvement in the parade, with several of those parading associated with dissident republicanism.
The conclusion of the anti-internment parade means that, overall, the North’s often violent marching season has so far been mainly peaceful.
On Saturday, the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABOD) parade in Derry marking the Relief of Derry in 1689 from a siege by the forces of King James also took place peacefully. While there were two arrests, police praised the organisers for ensuring a successful day.
In recent years the Derry parade, involving some 35,000 people, has been peaceful - although in past years before the Apprentice Boys and local nationalist groups struck an accord there was often serious violence during and after the event.
The PSNI’s Derry district commander, Chief Supt Stephen Cargin, said “the parade itself was exemplary”.
“It is the third year that the parade has went well,” he added. “This is not a coincidence - it is due to the hard work of many agencies, ABOD, businesses, marshals and organisations involved in the partnership working that goes into the lengthy planning of the event.
“It just goes to show that it obviously pays off when people respect and listen to each other and work for a peaceful resolution.”