Belfast Telegraph

Internment rally will add fuel to fire, warns DUP

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

A newly-formed umbrella group of dissident republicans is masquerading behind a human rights protest in a bid to stir up sectarian tensions, unionists have claimed.

The Parades Commission is currently deliberating over an anti-internment parade expected to involve around 5,000 people in the centre of Belfast.

A number of dissident republican groups have united to organise the event under the title The Anti-Internment League, the first time a rally has been organised in the body's name.

Those involved include the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and Republican Network for Unity (RNU), both of which are alleged to have links to republican terror groups, which they deny.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party, eirigi and the 1916 Societies are also involved.

RNU spokesman Ciaran Cunningham said the rally was intended to highlight concerns over the length of time republicans are spending on remand in prison with the parade coinciding with the 42nd anniversary of the introduction of internment.

He said organisers were determined it would be peaceful.

But unionists have described the demonstration, due to take place on August 9, as inflammatory and called for it to be banned.

DUP MLA Robin Newton said: "I see no purpose in the parade except to raise tensions in Belfast.

"I've no doubt the impact on community relations will be totally negative and there can be no doubt the outcomes of a parade such as this will be felt for a very long time indeed.

"I would be disappointed if the Parades Commission did not realise that coming from an umbrella body for dissident republicans, this is a grievous insult. There will be among those groups those who have supported murder and continue to support violence across Northern Ireland."

Organisers said they also intend inviting trade unions, GAA clubs and human rights groups. Mr Cunningham, who was jailed for six years in 2004 for gathering information of use to terrorists, said there was no appetite for trouble. He added: "The parade is simply to raise awareness over what is collective republican opinion that the State is practising selective internment again through an abuse of the remand system.

"Obviously the date is significant but it's not a commemoration, it's a march to raise awareness of ongoing internment by the British State in Ireland.

"I understand there is a very competent steering committee made up of members of the various groups taking part and I'd be confident that committee would be able to prevent any trouble coming from our side on the day.

"We certainly would not wish for nor want any trouble because we know from experience that would be the news carried from the day, not the message of the march."

RNU has been embroiled in controversy in the past.

Easter Rising commemorations were marred at an event organised by the group in Ardoyne after shots were fired into the air.

And there was outrage at the donning of paramilitary uniforms by children during a parade to mark the same event.

A decision on the parade and two protests by loyalist residents are due to be made this week.

Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland said while he had concerns regarding the parade, everybody had the right to enjoy "democratic freedoms".

"Whilst I am genuinely and sincerely concerned that this is an attempt by some to stoke up further tension in the city, it is my view that if you live in a democracy and believe in freedom of speech then it is inevitable that you will hear things that you will not like," he said.

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