Riot fears as loyalists given go-ahead for huge Easter Monday march in Lurgan
Fears are growing of major disorder after a massive loyalist parade through Lurgan was given the go-ahead, although with a key restriction imposed.
The Belfast Telegraph understands the Parades Commission has approved an application for an Apprentice Boys of Derry march on Easter Monday.
However, it will not be permitted to go through republican areas close to Shankill Parish Church.
Up to 3,600 participants and 61 bands are expected to pass through the town.
The timing of the parade is particularly sensitive as it falls around the weekend when republicans are set to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.
It has led to fears of clashes between rival factions.
SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said the parade was "provocative" and a waste of police resources.
She also described the procession as nothing more than a "coat-trailing exercise".
Adding to tensions is the fact that the town suffered an outbreak of violence at the hands of dissident republicans in January.
A decision on any further potential restrictions on the parade, which has been organised by the Apprentice Boys' Mid-Ulster Amalgamated Committee, is expected imminently.
In the meantime, the procession will be banned from going behind the Shankill Parish Church.
Instead, it will be stopped at the front of the building and then turned back.
"I really regard this as a provocative parade, given the timing of it, and I welcome restrictions being placed on it," said Mrs Kelly.
"I would hope that there is no trouble or violence and that people are respectful and that the parade goes to time."
Security chiefs are concerned that dissident republicans could target the event, after a rash of alerts in recent weeks.
PSNI officers came under sustained attack in recent disturbances in the town, with more than 100 petrol bombs thrown in the area of Lake Street.
At one stage during the disorder, a gunman emerged from the crowd and fired a shot at police.
No officers or members of the public were injured in the violence.
However, a number of police vehicles were damaged and helicopter air support, specially trained riot police from other parts of Northern Ireland and dog teams were drafted in as back-up.
Although there has been no Apprentice Boys march in the town since 1994, a heavy police presence is expected.
Mrs Kelly, who sits on the Policing Board, said the parade was a waste of public funds.
"There will be a police presence here at a time when the resources are already stretched," she added.
"It is going to be held at an emotive time as other people mark the historical Easter Rising.
"It's disruptive to the town and on Easter Monday when families go on day trips, but I would urge people to ignore it and go about their business." She said Lurgan had "a 50/50 make-up" and urged the parade organisers to be respectful of that.
"Whoever organised this could have chosen a different place to minimise any potential trouble, particularly at a time when the police are stretched as it is," Mrs Kelly added. "It's nothing more than a coat-trailing exercise."
But Ulster Unionist councillor Colin McCusker welcomed the parade. "The last time this parade took place in Lurgan it snowed and Brownlow House was in a bad state of repair - how times have changed," he said. "The Loyal Orders in Lurgan, and the Apprentice Boys in particular, have been working very hard to build a united community in Lurgan, as well as striving to ensure there are no no-go areas for their organisation."
The parade will leave Windsor Avenue at 1.45pm.
A substantially smaller republican parade, organised by the National Graves Association and involving Lurgan Martyrs' Republican Flute Band, will take place in Lurgan on Easter Sunday.