Belfast Telegraph

Order lodges complaint

By Dave Whelan

A protest march held in east Belfast was a "dignified" and "peaceful" affair according to a senior member in the Orange Order.

Rev Mervyn Gibson was commenting after around 350 people marched from Templemore Avenue along the Newtownards Road to the office of the Police Ombudsman, where they presented a dossier of allegations against the actions of police during a July 12 parade.

At the time members of the Ballymacarrett No 6 LOL claimed that they were the victims of a sectarian attack from nationalists in the Short Strand area as they made their way home from the annual twelfth demonstration.

The Orange Order chaplin said that the aim of the dossier had been to bring attention to the short falls of police action after they were attacked with "paint and urine bombs for around 30 minutes".

The route, past St Matthew's Church, is expected to be one of those used this weekend as up to 10,000 protesters gather at Belfast City Hall to mark the anniversary of the removal of the union flag.

There have been widespread calls to prevent the protest on one of Belfast's busiest trading days going ahead and in the Assembly on Tuesday (November 26) Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness accused the UVF of organising the protest.

Rev Gibson said that while the Orange Order had not organised the protest he was sure that members of the Order would be present. When asked about disruption to local traders and business he said: "Belfast people are resilient, they came into the city centre after a car bomb exploded at Victoria Square so I see no reason why they would be unable to come in during a peaceful protest."

There are indications that this weekend's protest could breach the Parade's Commission ruling handed out earlier this week.

Under the ruling the protest must be clear of City Hall by noon, and should have passed the junction of Royal Avenue and North Street by 12.30pm with "no undue stoppages or delays".

However fliers currently in circulation encourage protesters to gather at City Hall at 1pm, with the parade getting underway at 2pm.

Protesters make their way along Royal Avenue, the Shankill Road, and on to Tennent Street.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long has called on organisers to voluntarily call of the parade and pursue their concerns through constructive means.

"While the right to protest is one of the cornerstones of democracy, it comes with a responsibility to the wider community," she said. "The fact is people across Northern Ireland have grown sick of the violence, disturbances and disruption that have become, in people's minds at least, inextricably linked with these protests, and which cause lasting damage to the image of Northern Ireland as a safe place to visit and invest.

"I don't believe that traders can survive another Christmas like last year. I also believe that, at a time when dissident republicans are increasingly targeting the city centre with their campaign, we need the police to be able to focus on countering that very serious threat and not be distracted."

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