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These parades by people in masks break the law... so what are the police going to do about them?

The INLA staged a paramilitary display in Belfast last weekend. The PSNI claims it carried out an 'extensive' evidence-gathering operation around the march. But were officers right not to intervene?

By Nelson McCausland

Published 28/04/2016

Masked men at a funeral in Derry
Masked men at a funeral in Derry

Ranks of men and women dressed in paramilitary uniforms and with their faces masked should not be allowed to march through the streets of west Belfast, or indeed any other part of Northern Ireland.

There was a time when masked members of the Provisional IRA marched in ranks wearing paramilitary uniforms, and today the practice is perpetuated by people associated with the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

The IRSP is a republican Trotskyist party that was formed in December 1974 by former members of the Official Republican movement as well as some other republican socialists, such as Bernadette Devlin.

A paramilitary wing, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), was formed on the same day, although its existence was kept secret for some time.

It was a small organisation, but was responsible for more than 120 murders.

Last July, in Londonderry, the funeral of Peggy O'Hara, mother of the INLA hunger striker Patsy O'Hara, was staged as an INLA paramilitary display, when masked men in black uniforms marched through the city.

Each of them had a red five-pointed star on their berets, a symbol associated with the INLA.

Such displays are illegal and the relevant legislation is Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which was passed at Westminster and applies across the United Kingdom.

It states: "A person in a public place commits an offence if he (a) wears an item of clothing, or (b) wears, carries, or displays an article in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member, or supporter, of a proscribed organisation."

Last Sunday the Republican Socialist Movement, which embraces both the IRSP and the INLA, staged another paramilitary parade up the Falls Road to Milltown Cemetery.

Once again there were ranks of masked men and women in black paramilitary uniforms with red stars on their berets.

As the marchers moved away from Dunville Park the PSNI announced through a loudspeaker that this was an "illegal gathering".

However, it was allowed to proceed and made its way to the INLA-IRSP plot at Milltown.

There, one of the masked men, with a distinctive red mask, read a statement from the platform.

There were also speakers from the IRSP.

As regards the masked marchers, the uniforms, the masks, the red star, the INLA insignia, the flags in the colour party, the reports on the IRSP blog and IRSP Facebook pages, the speeches and the location of the final ceremony at the INLA plot, all "arouse reasonable suspicion" that they were "members or supporters of a proscribed organisation".

Some people will try to dismiss such displays and say that we should ignore them, but that would be a serious mistake.

The IRSP and INLA got away with it in Londonderry and now they believe they can get away with it in Belfast.

They see their paramilitary displays as a means of asserting their existence and recruiting young and impressionable people into their ranks.

Over the next few weeks the PSNI will be examining the evidence it gathered in what it described to me as an "extensive operation".

But are the PSNI tactics the right tactics? Are they working? Did the evidence-gathering cover the entire period of the Belfast march, including the ceremony in Milltown and the subsequent dispersal? What is the quality of the evidence? And is the current legislation adequate?

The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland are appalled by such paramilitary displays and want to see them ended. They regard them as totally unacceptable in this day and age.

That is why I and others have sought a meeting with Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Marrin, who responsible for policing such marches.

We need answers to the questions I have asked, we need resolute action by the PSNI and PPS, and we need an end to such public displays of paramilitarism.

Nelson McCausland is a DUP candidate for the Assembly in North Belfast.

Belfast Telegraph

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