Fears of violence allayed as march passes off peacefully
Fears of a repeat of recent violence at an east Belfast interface came to nothing when a loyalist memorial parade passed off peacefully last night.
More than 500 people lined the lower Newtownards Road as part of a commemorative parade for Robert Neill and James McCurrie, who were shot dead in a gun battle between loyalists and republicans in June 1970.
There was a heavy police presence and scores of marshalls in high-visibility vests to ensure the annual event, which involved 13 bands, passed off without incident.
The parade snaked its way along Templemore Avenue, Albertbridge Road and the Newtownards Road to a loyalist memorial opposite St Matthew’s Catholic Church.
PSNI Land Rovers kept a small number of nationalist youths in the Short Strand area away from the parade using screens to block their view.
The bands were applauded as they marched passed St Matthew’s and turned into Pitt Place, where the parade ended.
Crowds were prevented from walking alongside the bands.
Reverend Mervyn Gibson, who led the 15-minute memorial service, told listeners that people in the area want to live in peace.
“Local people don’t want trouble,” he said.
“They want to live in peace, but a peace that does not just mean no major riots, but the peace that means you can go into your back garden without fear of a brick hitting you and a peace free from fear of a petrol bomb hitting your roof.”
In previous years the parade has passed off peacefully.
Unionist community worker Maggie Hutton said marshalls were on-hand in an effort to keep the calm.
She said: “With any band parade there’s always the ‘blue bag brigade’ who use it as an excuse to drink,” she said. “We can’t stop them drinking, but we can stop them coming to our parade.
“We don’t want any trouble.”
Discussions had been ongoing during the week to determine if residents of Pitt Place and Wolf Park wanted the parade to go ahead under a risk of violence.
Tensions in east Belfast have been high since Sunday when fierce rioting broke out at the notorious interface.
It was some of the most serious rioting seen in the area for years, with the UVF blamed for orchestrating it.
Police have since revealed that a 16-year-old was among those shot during the violence.
A man, aged 25, was also shot in the foot in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
A Press Association photographer was shot on Tuesday evening.
Police chief inspector Mark McEwan said they were treating the first two incidents as attempted murder and have appealed for witnesses.
Police are also investigating reports that a cyclist who was riding down the road on Monday night was struck on the back of the head and assaulted by masked men.
He was taken to hospital with a wound to the back of his head and cuts to the rest of his body.
Another man is being treated in hospital for a fractured skull after he was assaulted in the grounds of St Matthew’s Church.
A number of items plus CCTV footage have been removed from the scene for forensic investigation.
Meanwhile, a 28-year-old man arrested on Thursday in connection with dissident republican activity relating to the rioting has been released unconditionally.