Arlene Foster accuses PSNI of ‘heavy-handed’ policing of flute band

Apprentice Boys recognise ‘upset’ caused by Parachute Regiment emblems at Derry parade

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the policing operation had “generated significant and justifiable concern across the unionist community”. File photograph: Reuters

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the policing operation had “generated significant and justifiable concern across the unionist community”. File photograph: Reuters

 

The DUP leader Arlene Foster has accused the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) of being “heavy-handed and disproportionate” in their policing of a flute band which wore Parachute Regiment emblems during Saturday’s Apprentice Boys’ march in Derry.

The regiment’s insignia and a letter F was displayed on the sleeve of the uniforms of the Clyde Valley Flute band from Larne, Co Antrim.

The PSNI said that on the day of the parade they attempted to address the issue in a “constructive way” through dialogue with the band and allowed it to march - flanked with PSNI officers - in order to avoid disorder and to protect the public and police officers.

After the parade the band’s bus was later stopped outside Derry and band members were asked to provide their names and addresses. A police investigation has been launched.

Speaking on Tuesday evening, the Governor of the Apprentice Boys Graeme Stenhouse said their committee had “no prior knowledge of this band’s uniform or this incident until the conclusion of the main parade.

“We recognise that this may have caused upset to many in the nationalist community,” he said.

“Our focus at this parade is to commemorate the siege and the relief of the city in 1689. In no way should it be used as a means to heighten tensions in a shared city.”

Mrs Foster and other members of the DUP met with the PSNI earlier on Tuesday. In a statement afterwards, she said the policing operation had “generated significant and justifiable concern across the unionist community”.

“We do not believe motifs worn by band members were illegal and they did not tangibly threaten a breach of the peace,” she said.

“This is in stark contrast to events orchestrated by dissident republicans, including an unnotified protest, in the vicinity of the parade.”

Mrs Foster also said that the police had confirmed to her that a “review of tactics” will take place.

Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin defended the police’s response, and said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with politicians including the DUP.

“We explained what police did and why. We also listened carefully to all the strong concerns that have been raised about how we carried out our actions.

“As with all our policing operations there will be a full debrief of our actions on Saturday and we will learn any lessons that result from it.

“Today’s discussions were helpful and reinforced the importance of dialogue in restoring the good will that has surrounded parades in Derry/Londonderry over many years,” he said.

On Saturday thousands of members of the Apprentice Boys marched through the centre of Derry for their annual parade which commemorates the ending of the 1689 siege.

In recent months controversial banners bearing Parachute Regiment insignia and declaring support for Soldier F have been displayed in many parts of Northern Ireland.

A former member of the Parachute Regiment, Soldier F is facing two charges of murder and four charges of attempted murder in connection with Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972, when 13 civilians were shot dead by the British army regiment. A fourteenth died later.

The Bloody Sunday Trust, which represents the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday, criticised the decision to allow the band to take part in the parade.

Chairman of the trust, Tony Doherty - whose father was killed by Soldier F - said it was “callous and irresponsible in the extreme to parade such support through the streets of Derry.

‘There could easily have been a major confrontation on Saturday as a result of this. This type of behaviour is already causing unnecessary tension and is having a negative impact on community relations,” he said.

On Saturday night petrol bombs were thrown at the Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall, and police who responded were attacked by petrol bombs.

On Monday night police were attacked with bricks and bottles, and a barricade was constructed and set alight across Fahan Street in the Bogside, near the city walls.

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the statement from the Apprentice Boys and said that “acknowledging the genuine hurt caused by a band parading with Parachute Regiment and Soldier F insignia is a positive step that may contribute to healing in the city.

“Tensions in our city have been heightened over the course of the weekend,” Mr Eastwood said. “We all have a responsibility to take the poison out of a very difficult situation and work together to reconcile our communities.”