Republican parade sparks police show of force and counterprotest
Marching republicans and counterprotesting loyalists trade insults, but peace prevails
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said there was no violence or arrests. Photograph: Amanda Ferguson/The Irish Times
There was a significant police presence in Belfast city centre on Saturday as several hundred republicans took part in the End Internment parade.
However, the Anti-Internment League (AIL) event through city centre streets passed off peacefully. And while republicans and loyalists among the parade and counterprotest exchanged insults, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said there was no violence or arrests.
The Parades Commission, which previously restricted the march, allowed it to begin at Writers Square and on to City Hall, with the return leg out of town via Castle Street.
Up to 40 loyalists, including Independent unionist Cllr Jolene Bunting who declined to talk to the media, held a counterprotest on Royal Avenue against the AIL parade close to the scene where two UDR soldiers were killed by the IRA. They waved union and Israel flags and chanted “terrorist scum off our streets” against the backdrop of a large UDR-themed banner emblazoned with the words “Peacemakers” and “Operation Banner Northern Ireland 1969-2007”.
A group of loyalist men, unwilling to give their names, were critical of the commission for allowing the march to take place. One said he was protesting against the event because “dissident republicans oppose the British state and are still trying to murder police”.
Another said he was there because the AIL delegation “can’t tolerate memorials to men killed by the IRA”. Anti-Internment League spokesman Dee Fennell said he thought criticism of their parade “ironic and hypocritical” as he said loyalists routinely “attend commemorations for pro-British death squads”.
Internment, or detention without trial, was introduced at the height of the Troubles in 1971. Mr Fennell told The Irish Times that republicans were using their right to parade and protest in Belfast as the city is a “shared space that if open to some should be open to all”.
Many on the march carried placards that declared: Abolish Free State Special Courts; End Internment By Remand; and End British Internment in Ireland.
“Internment has always existed from internment without trial, followed by the supergrass trials and internment by remand in the ’80s,” said Mr Fennell. “In recent years Kevin Murphy was on remand for five years and other people were held for two years before being released on draconian bail conditions. We have people interned through miscarriages of justice, like The Craigavon Two and then also revocation of early licence like Tony Taylor. ”
Mr Fennell said the parade was also taking place to highlight concerns with Dublin’s Special Criminal Court system, “including seeing republicans being interned through gardaí belief evidence”.
Revolutionary republican party Saoradh and Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association spokeswoman Mandy Duffy addressed the crowd outside City Hall. The address was delivered with 30 loyalists close by who gather every Saturday to highlight the decision taken by councillors in 2012 to limit the flying of the union flag from City Hall to designated days.
Ms Duffy said republicans continue to “suffer from the effects of torture” and was critical of the prison systems across the island. She said arrests and “spurious charges” means republicans are being imprisoned at “an alarming rate”.