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Dissidents' bid to march on Belfast city hall sparks rioting fears

By Suzanne Breen

Published 21/06/2016

Anti-internment rally was stopped from entering Belfast City Centre in 2015
Anti-internment rally was stopped from entering Belfast City Centre in 2015
Anti-internment rally, Belfast 2015
Anti-internment rally, Belfast 2013
Anti-internment rally, Belfast 2013

Fears are growing of violence erupting on the streets of Belfast after dissident republicans announced plans for a rally outside City Hall this summer.

Organisers of the anti-interment march have told the Parades Commission that they expect 5,000 people to take part in the event on August 7.

There are major concerns over disturbances, with loyalists threatening to hold counter-demonstrations if the rally is given the go-ahead.

Unionist politicians last night said the parade would place huge pressure on an already over-stretched PSNI and result in a ring of steel being placed around the city during the height of the tourist season.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers warned: "This is a recipe for mayhem on the streets and it will harm efforts to build better community relations."

Dissident republicans have marched through the city centre to commemorate internment before, but this is the first time they have sought to hold a rally outside City Hall.

They want to set off from Andersonstown and walk along the Falls Road before making their way through Castle Street into Donegall Place and Donegall Square North. Four flute bands are scheduled to take part.

The Parades Commission is considering the application.

A spokesman for the Anti-Internment League, which is organising the rally, said it would be peaceful, not provocative.

"Loyalists march through the city all the time," he added. "Last weekend, thousands took part in a Somme demonstration and the Loyal Orders regularly parade through the town.

"If Belfast really is a shared space, there is no reason why republicans shouldn't have the same access as others. Our parade will be over at 1.30pm, so it will have virtually no effect on trade or shopping."

But councillor Rodgers said: "It was only a matter of time before these people decided they were holding a rally at City Hall. I would appeal to them to behave responsibly and change their plans. The last thing we need is serious disturbances in the city centre. This stunt will place pressure on the security forces and will drive tourists away.

"Thousands of visitors arrive in Belfast every day and cruise ships dock here. We need to build a new Northern Ireland, not host contentious rallies."

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds added: "This march has a history of significant breaches of Parades Commission determinations. The Parades Commission must act on that, otherwise it will be seen as a double standard after punitive action against Orange marches."

This is the fourth year that dissidents have sought to march through the city to commemorate internment's introduction.

In 2013, 56 PSNI officers were injured after loyalist protesters attacked the police during the demonstration. The following year, trouble was prevented following a massive police operation which saw streets blocked off hours in advance.

Last year, there were clashes between the PSNI and republicans after police stopped the march, which started in north Belfast, entering the city centre.

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