Loyalist flag demonstration ends peacefully in Belfast
Rally significantly smaller than the 10,000 allowed for by Parades Commission
Loyalists in fancy dress take part in a march from the City Hall to mark the first anniversary of the council’s decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag in Belfast. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
A loyalist demonstration called to protest against alleged “political policing” and the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall has passed off largely peacefully.
Two PSNI officers were hurt, one knocked unconscious, in an isolated incident when protesters attempting to depart from the parade route were blocked by officers in the Tennent Street area of the Shankill. There was one arrest.
The rally was significantly smaller than the 5,000 allowed for by the Parades Commission. In breach of the law, the march also left City Hall to parade along Donegall Place and Royal Avenue one hour later than prescribed by the Parades Commission which rules on public demonstrations.
The commission has said it will investigte any breaches of its determination.
Although permission had been given for 40 bands, just two took part. The parade was led by Coughfern Young Conquerors carrying a banner honouring John Gregg, the UDA “brigadier” shot dead in 2003 and the man who shot and wounded Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in the early 1980s.
Belfast city centre was quieter than normal for a weekend in the run-up to Christmas and many shoppers appeared to have postponed any shopping trips until after the event.
The parade was organised by a group calling itself the Loyalist Peaceful Protestors (LPP) and was marshalled by a handful of men who urged the demonstrators to remain on the pavements as the allotted time, handed down by the Parades Commission, passed.
The PSNI maintained a high-profile with many officers on the streets while others recorded video images of the protest. The police helicopter hovered overhead throughout the event.
Roads, shops and the Christmas market in the grounds of City Hall remained open.
There was no platform and no speakers. A statement handed out to journalists claimed the LPP comprised “like-minded people from all over Northern Ireland and Scotland” and have no affiliation with any political party or paramilitary organisations.
“The LPP are hosting this parade today to highlight the ongoing breaches of human rights of the PUL (Protestant, unionist and loyalist) community since the 3rd of December last year when a decision was taken within the council chambers to remove the Union flag from its rightful place above our City Hall.
“What was to follow was inevitable. The PUL people of N Ireland staged street protests, all over our country in disgust.”
The statement claims there was an “absurd” reaction to the Union flag protests from the PSNI and judicial system.
“People from our community were being beaten by the police for exercising there [SIC]basic human rights,” it said.
“We have seen are [SIC]elderly, our women folk and our children fall foul of this evil.”
The statement concluded: “We remain strong in our defiance to protest without the fear of arrest or imprisonment, any future infringement of the PUL community’s human rights will be addressed by the LPP by means of protest or parades.”