A police ‘wall of steel’ lined a loyalist parade as it passed a sectarian flashpoint in east Belfast. Hundreds took to the streets last night as some 37 bands and 2,000 people took part in the parade by the Ballymacarrett District lodge No 6, marking the Battle of the Somme.
In new Chief Constable George Hamilton’s second day in the job he oversaw a police operation which included a high steel cordon stretching the length of the nationalist Short Strand so residents could not see the parade and likewise supporters of the parade could not see residents.
In recent years the area has experienced serious trouble, including last year. The parade started off at around 7.30pm from Templemore Avenue and made its way along the Albertbridge Road.
It passed the Short Strand where a significant police operation was in process. There were also police officers in clusters along the Albertbridge Road.
Five PSNI Land Rovers blocked the only area not covered by the cordon.
Scores of Short Strand residents stood silently as the bands passed.
East Belfast UUP MLA Michael Copeland and South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt were among the representatives from the unionist community watching.
Mr Spratt said the police operation was to be “complimented”.
“The parade was a very dignified parade and it went off very peacefully,” he said.
He continued: “I think in terms of the police operation I would like to compliment the PSNI on the operation. I think the new screening system they have is excellent, and certainly they need to be complimented on the way they dealt with the thing.
“It was a good exercise and I hope it’s an encouragement towards what has to come in coming days.”
Meanwhile Sinn Fein councillor for the area Niall O Donnghaile said the steel cordons are not a solution to the parades problem.
“I don’t see them as a long-term resolution to the issue of this parade. I made that clear to the PSNI and to the Parades Commission as well”, he said.
“I think the way to resolve the issues around this parade, and there are very few contentious parades in east Belfast, but the way to begin the process of resolving those parades is to sit down and talk.”
Mr O Donnaghaile said the introduction of the screens followed a series of talks between residents and the PSNI.
He said: “They have had to endure the drunk and offensive nature of this parade in the past so while it isn’t a long-term resolution these screens have offered residents a degree of comfort in that they haven’t had to witness those scenes. I’m glad things were quiet, but we can’t continue to keep having these issues coming up each and every year.”
He added: “This, in 2014, can’t be conducive to good relations; it can’t be conducive to good policing. It has to be resolved through respect and through dialogue.”
PSNI wins appeal on parading tactics
The Chief Constable has welcomed the overturning of a verdict that senior police commanders wrongly facilitated illegal and sometimes violent loyalist flag protest marches — saying the decision could have severely impacted on the force's ability to manage upcoming parades.
A panel of three judges ruled that a decision to manage major disruption first and bring charges against offenders later was well within policing discretion.
They also held that proportionate steps were taken to protect the human rights of nationalist residents potentially exposed to the weekly demonstrations.
The judgment represents a major boost for the force as it prepares to deal with any contentious parades over the summer marching season.
Chief Constable George Hamilton, who took up the top post on Monday, said: “The protracted period of the flags protests, and associated disorder, was a challenging time for everyone in Northern Ireland and there are lessons from that period for a range of bodies, including policing.
“However, the PSNI was concerned that elements of the original High Court judgment may have impacted on our ability to police parades and protest activity in a way which is fully compliant with the Human Rights Act and Policing with the Community philosophy.
“We appealed the judgment accordingly and welcome that clarity from the Court of Appeal this morning.”
Earlier this year police chiefs came under scathing judicial criticism for how they responded to weekly marches from east Belfast following a decision in December 2012 to restrict the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.
Legal proceedings were taken by a nationalist resident, identified only as DB, who claimed his Short Strand home was attacked by protestors.
He claimed this breached his privacy and family life entitlements under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It was also contended that police failure to prevent the parades contravened both the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 and the Police (NI) Act 2000.
A High Court judge ruled in April that the commander in charge of the operation around the protests misdirected himself in believing he was hampered by law from stopping the parades and arresting participants.
Following yesterday’s verdict lawyers for DB indicated they will now take their case to the Supreme Court in London.