Tension remains high in North


Tensions remain high in north Belfast after a Stormont minister said the violence that broke out in the city last weekend – after a loyalist parade flouted the terms laid down by the Parades Commission – was “almost inevitable”.

The DUP’s Nelson McCausland refused to condemn the actions of the Royal Black Institution, which defied a ban on playing music outside a Catholic church in Belfast city-centre. An Orange band was previously filmed
parading around in circles and playing sectarian music outside the same church on the Twelfth of July.

There are fears of further flare-ups when the Orange Order applies to follow the same route for a march at the end of September.

Over 2,000 marchers and 33 bands took part in Saturday’s event to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant. The Shankill Road-based Young Conway Volunteers - the band involved in the Twelfth of July incident - had been barred from marching past St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street, but this was ignored. Music was also played. Seven PSNI officers were injured in the resulting clashes between protestors, marchers and the police. Three people, including a 13-year-old boy, have been arrested.

Social Development minister Nelson McCausland said: “After a summer of bizarre decisions by the [Parades] Commission, there was an anger within the unionist community and this was almost inevitable”.

But the SDLP MLA for the area, Alban Maginness, called the event an “utterly grotesque display of sectarianism” and hit out at Mr McCausland for “defending the indefensible”.

He said: “Not only is Mr McCausland an MLA but he is a minister in our government and he should show leadership. This is a very, very tense situation.

“The way the Black Perceptory behaved was appalling and scandalous and left me and many other members of this community deeply shocked and disturbed.

“Mr McCausland should have at least criticised what went on and he has failed to do that.”

Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said a political solution to the marching issue had to be found as a matter of priority.

“The Parades Commission don’t always get it right ... but the reality is ... they are the only show in town,” he said.

While the Parades Commission did not respond to individual criticisms, a spokesman said public representatives should “back our decisions and not raise tensions around contentious marches”.

He added: “There is an onus on all local leaders to be very considered in what they say before a parade because public comment can add to the tension”.