UVF founding centenary 'to remember Great War fallen'
Saturday's commemoration of the founding of Ulster Volunteer Force 100 years ago has already sparked controversy, after Alliance Party constituents in east Belfast complained about "intimidation" surrounding the erection of flags along the route of the parade.
On Sunday a group of men, reportedly wearing masks, stopped traffic and erected the flags on the Belmont Road using a cherry picker.
Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said: "The allegation that men with masked identities used elevated work platform vehicles in broad daylight to erect the flags is particularly sinister and a challenge for the rule of law."
However, those behind the centenary parade have been at pains to distinguish between the original UVF which was founded by James Craig and Edward Carson to fight Home Rule. Many of its members enlisted for the 36th Ulster Division and perished at the Somme. The present day paramilitary group of the same name was formed in 1966.
John Stevenson, from the organising Carson and Craig Centenary Committee, responded to the residents' concerns over the flags being placed. "There was nothing sinister or untoward," he claimed. "The man was wearing an open faced balaclava, he was not a masked man, you could see his whole face and the men on the ground weren't wearing masks.
"Even when he came down from the vehicle his face was scarlet with the cold," he said.
He also said that no one from the proscribed organisation – the UVF – was involved in the project, and that the celebrations were "to remember the brave men lying dead in the fields of France and Flanders, who laid down their lives for our freedom of speech".
The PSNI confirmed that the flags are not related to a proscribed organisation. They have said that they will be meeting with community representatives to address concerns about the flags which have appeared along many of the main roads in the area including Sydenham.
The Carson and Craig Centenary Committee spokesman said: "It is the aim of the Committee to provide a day which is open to all and which we hope will be a family day and pageantry will be enjoyed by everyone in attendance. The day's celebrations are not in any way designed to be controversial or confrontational.
"We have deliberately chosen a route that deviates from the original parade in 1913 that does not go near any contentious areas."
The committee approached the political parties for support. "If we had been helped along the way by our mainstream political parties and been in receipt of any government funding we would have able to fine tune certain aspects of the organisation of the day, but unfortunately none was forthcoming."
The parade will begin at the junction of the Ravenhill Road and My Lady's Road at 11am on Saturday, and is expected to end at around 4pm.
Organisers say the day will replicate as near as possible, the form of the actual route taken in 1913 and will include UVF Cavalry, vintage cars, Lord Carson, men and women in period dress, local groups and Somme Associations.