Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Loyalist protests: PSNI will not buckle, whatever the cost

More than 3,000 loyalists - including bands and supporters - marched from City Hall to north Belfast on Saturday. Pic Mark Marlow
More than 3,000 loyalists - including bands and supporters - marched from City Hall to north Belfast on Saturday. Pic Mark Marlow

On a busy city centre street the PSNI warning was repeated many times: "Attention, attention. This is a police message. This parade is now unlawful."

More than an hour had passed since the time stipulated by the Parades Commission for a protest march from City Hall.

But that police message might as well have been to the walls.

It was close to two o'clock before the parade was leaving the city centre on its way towards the Shankill and Woodvale, as in a mood of protest over flags and marching, the PSNI and Parades Commissions was ignored.

Police Land Rovers and officers in riot kit were once again part of Saturday's city centre.

Around 25 public order police units were deployed – each with 20-25 officers.

Dog teams and water cannon were also there, as well as a softer PSNI image on Royal Avenue, with around 70 officers in high visibility yellow jackets.

Add the numbers and the total was somewhere in the region of 600-plus.

"Another shedload of money down the drain," was how one senior officer summed it up.

I could hear the frustration in his voice.

"It's frustration with a lack of resolution to this stuff," he said.

"The financial costs are just huge and that message isn't landing.

"It's depressing, really."

But the senior officer also had a message for those who might think they can break the police – "physically or financially" – in this phase of protest and street confrontation.

"We are not going to be broken," the source said.

For all the disruption, Saturday's march was peaceful, but the police still needed to be ready for the worst.

Part of the commentary describing this street play talks of "cultural war" – and a "loyalist united".

"Come elections, it will be dog-eat-dog," one observer commented, and he's right. Part of what we are seeing is a play for votes and seats.

Finding agreements is the job of the talks initiative being chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass. Friday night's culture events and Saturday's protest represented another weekend in which Belfast again showed itself to be a city of contradictions.

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