Loyalists protest over parade ruling
Crowds gathered in north Belfast last night to protest against the Parades Commission’s decision to place restrictions on tonight’s Orange Order Tour of the North parade.
Two feeder parades have been rerouted away from an interface area in Ardoyne, which has been the scene of violent clashes in previous years.
A two-hour protest organised by the loyalist North and West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum took place at the Ardoyne shops yesterday evening.
The peaceful demonstration was accompanied by a large presence of police in riot gear who blocked the protesters from passing the shops.
For three nights during the marching season last year police were targeted with 75 petrol bombs from a 300-strong republican mob in the same area.
One female officer had a concrete slab dropped on her head. Last night loyalist protesters held placards which read ‘Protestant community denied access to the A52’, ‘This is not an orange road or a green road’ and ‘Equal access, that is all we ask for”.
The Tour of the North is the first contentious parade of the marching season and has historically seen violent clashes.
However, following strengthened community relations in the area, last year’s parade passed off peacefully, but was followed by serious July 12 rioting.
Last night one protesting local resident said: “We are supposed to be in a time where we can have shared space, equal for everybody.”
The demonstration was organised by the North and West Belfast Parades and Cultural Forum after access to the Ardoyne area was denied to the feeder parades.
Tommy Cheevers, chairperson of the forum, described the police presence as “heavy-handed”.
He said: “This Parades Commission seem to have set their face against this community.
“The women decided to come out for a peaceful protest over equal access, and immediately the riot police moved in.”
North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey said the protest was “disciplined and |dignified”.
The annual Tour of the North parade is seen as one of the most contentious of Northern Ireland's marching season. The Parades Commission decided to re-route the 2011 Tour of the North from part of the Ardoyne area. In its ruling, the parades body said there had been a willingness on both sides to talk, but that no agreement was reached.