Belfast protests: Massive police cordon ... but fewer than 300 turn up
A nationalist parade and two loyalist counter-protests which were expected to bring up to 1,500 protesters into Belfast passed off peacefully after fewer than 300 people took part.
The demonstrations brought parts of the city centre to a standstill after police mounted a huge security operation from 9am on Saturday causing traffic chaos after a number of streets were cordoned off.
The North Belfast Civil Rights Association (NBCRA) organised the march over what it claims is a “sectarian bias” in the Housing Executive and other Government bodies.
Some protesters held posters and banners calling for ‘One family, one house’.
The Parades Commission was told by organisers to expect a turnout of over 500 people and five bands — however fewer than 100 supporters turned up for the event.
The small group left Duncairn Avenue at approximately at 12.15pm and marched to the University of Ulster in York Street.
The march then moved towards Donegall Street where it came within 30 yards of two loyalist counter-demonstrations from the Greater Concerned Residents’ Group Belfast and Concerned Residents’ Group Belfast.
Despite some loyalists singing sectarian songs, events passed off without incident.
It was predicted that up to 1,000 protesters would take part in the loyalist demonstration.
However, just over 100 people took to the streets with some holding posters, placards and Union flags as police formed a line separating the rivals.
A statement on the NBCRA website said the reason behind its march was to “highlight inequality in housing and a lack of leisure facilities in nationalist areas of north Belfast”.
But the DUP MP for North Belfast, Nigel Dodds, said the inequality did not exist.
“For many years nationalists and republicans have peddled the myth that housing need in north Belfast is overwhelmingly nationalist, indeed they have said it so often and with such confidence that it has been accepted as an established fact,” he said. “However, this is simply not true.”
The NBCRA had asked to parade in the Carrick Hill area, a flashpoint for loyalist parades, although the Parades Commission rerouted it, saying there were concerns that part of the demonstration would come into contact with loyalist protesters.
NBCRA spokesman Paul Little said: “Given the current climate, it is with great reluctance that we feel the need to publicly demonstrate for equal housing rights in north Belfast.
“However, the continued disparity in housing allocation and the provision of new and planned housing in north Belfast perpetuates the age-old, systematic discrimination against the non-unionist community.
“NBCRA are calling for imaginative solutions to the myriad problems of the area including housing, health, and unemployment, and are endorsing the campaign for a leisure centre to be built on the site of the former North Queen Street police station.
“Religious and political discrimination in public housing will not be addressed by the current housing strategy and the danger we believe is that society as a whole will sleepwalk back into the discriminatory housing policies of the old Stormont regime.”
The North Belfast Civil Rights Association claims there are 500 families in north Belfast awaiting social housing and that 90% are from nationalist and republican communities.
However, the DUP claimed that Housing Executive figures for September show that there were 5,304 people on the waiting list in north Belfast — 2,059 Protestants and 1,986 Catholics.