Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Belfast city centre held to ransom again by law-breaking loyalist protesters

Didn't I tell you our loyal peaceful protest was on Saturday? Cartoon by Stevie Lee
Didn't I tell you our loyal peaceful protest was on Saturday? Cartoon by Stevie Lee

Another late summer weekend passes, and another depressing loyalist demonstration makes the headlines. This time more than 3,000 people took part in a protest march from the city centre to Woodvale, in a direct contravention of a Parades Commission determination.

Despite the opposition of the police who clearly signalled that the march was illegal, the protesters continued their deliberate flouting of the law and also treated the Parades Commission and the police with derision.

It is clear that there is a still a sizeable minority of people in our society who are cynically prepared to ignore the law and the police, and with little or no thought of the consequences.

The cost of policing this protest march was huge, and this means that every large sum spent on security and the policing of arrogant demonstrations by a minority may result in belt-tightening in other areas.

It is clear that the protesters do not care about anyone else, and are interested only in their own narrow agenda. However, there is a cost to pay in terms of more bad publicity which means that the drive to secure inward investment and more tourism becomes harder.

It is estimated that this year's protest marches since the Christmas period have cost traders £15m in lost revenue. This followed an already difficult trading pattern due to the recession, and the improved summer figures were merely a partial catch-up to recover some revenue during a particularly bleak period.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness has called on Belfast business owners to seek a moratorium on all parades during the period covered by the Haass talks. This is a good idea in principle, but even if a moratorium was agreed, there is no guarantee the law-breakers would take any notice of this.

The situation continues to be extremely serious when such a large group is prepared to take the law into their own hands, while the forces of law and order have to stand by and watch this appalling lawlessness continue.

This has been a particularly bad year for marches, and the last thing that anyone needs is a further series of lawless demonstrations in Belfast. There is no easy solution to this near-anarchy, but until it is dealt with severely and finally, the rest of our society will continue to be held to ransom.

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