Fear of clashes at Apprentice Boys parade as republican group holds protest in Derry
There are fears over a possible confrontation at an Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry after a republican group announced a protest to coincide with it.
The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association announced that they were mounting a white line picket in Derry city centre to coincide with Saturday's Relief of Derry parade.
Up to 20,000 Apprentice Boys will descend on Londonderry for the annual Relief of Derry commemorations.
Although it had been marred by violence in the past, a ground-breaking initiative involving the loyal orders, businesses, churches and community leaders has ensured the Londonderry event is now seen as a model of parading.
Thanks to continued co-operation between parade organisers and community leaders, the annual August parade has remained largely trouble-free for years.
But the prisoner support group said yesterday that they would be holding their protest "in solidarity with Republican prisoner Luke O'Neill".
O'Neill is currently in Maghaberry Prison.
They said the picket will be help on Shipquay Street at 2pm, just as the Relief of Derry parade is due to make its way around the adjacent Diamond.
The group called on "all republicans and human rights advocates to join with us this Saturday to highlight the continued abuse of republican prisoners".
The Apprentice Boys of Derry's Chief Marshall David Ramsey said that they were aware of the protest but that their parade will be well marshalled and participants would be reminded not to react to provocation.
"This is probably the fifth year that a protest has been held at the same time of our parade," he said. "Our marshalls are always well aware of it.
"Saturday is a big day in the city. Realistically this could certainly antagonise but as always we will walk with dignity. We always emphasis the need not to react to provocation.
"Our message to parade participants is not to react to provocation as it is counter-productive and we must keep in mind that we are commemorating the Siege where many people lost their lives."
The annual event commemorates and celebrates the Relief of Derry in 1689 and up 30,000 will be on parade including 150 bands.