Loyalist parade passes peacefully
Published 20/07/2013 | 02:57
A loyalist protest parade at a north Belfast flashpoint which has been rocked by five nights of rioting has passed off without incident.
Thousands of Orange Order members, bandsmen and supporters were blocked from marching on a contested stretch of road separating loyalist and nationalist communities but there was no repeat of the violence that erupted after the annual Twelfth of July commemorations last Friday.
Hundreds of riot squad officers and scores of armoured Land Rovers were deployed to the area but community beat officers were put at the front of police lines on Woodvale Road in a bid to ease tensions. The Orange Order also had about 30 marshals on site who distributed leaflets warning troublemakers to stay away.
Addressing the crowd from the top of a van, Michael Crosby, from Pride of Ardoyne Flute Band, called for loyalists across Northern Ireland to show their support. He said: "This is only the start of it. It will continue. We want to fill this place with thousands of people and as for our unionist politicians - our aim is to get the Parades Commission gone."
Unlike at other Orange Order pickets, no letter of protest was handed to police. It ended after about half an hour with a rendition of the National Anthem.
Afterwards, Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson praised the police operation. "The police response was excellent today," he said. "We had sensible policing - sadly we don't always see that." Mr Gibson added: "I think it was a good day for peaceful protest. This crisis has been brought upon us by the Parades Commission - one peaceful protest is not going to solve it. We need people to become involved in politics and we need peaceful protest to try and sort this mess out. But, the day so far has been peaceful and long may it continue. Any violence does our cause harm. We will get rid of the Parades Commission but we will do it by peaceful protest and politics."
The protest was organised after the Parades Commission adjudication body banned Orangemen from marching on a disputed section of Crumlin Road as part of their annual Twelfth demonstrations. Last year, republicans rioted in the area when the Orange lodges were permitted to parade.
In a surprise move earlier this week the Orange Order submitted a second application to march along the same contentious route. Sinn Fein and the SDLP heavily criticised the institution following last week's violence, branding the move "irresponsible". The bid was rejected by the commission.
North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland, who was among those taking part on Saturday, described it as "peaceful and successful". He said: "The point was made very clearly and strongly by the Orange Order that violence detracts from and distracts from the purpose of the protest. It has been a beautiful day, great crowd and very successful demonstration and it is the start of a long campaign." It is likely a similar protest will take place next Saturday.
Over the past week more than 1,000 extra police officers have been drafted in from forces across the UK to help keep peace on the streets. More than 70 frontline police officers have been injured during violent clashes and around 75 people - aged between 12 and 52 - have been arrested. On Friday Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers warned that further violence would only serve to undermine efforts to bring jobs and investment to the region.