Massive loyalist demonstration is litmus test for a decade of commemorative marches
Hopes for peace as 10,000 prepare for convenant parade
A massive loyalist demonstration through Belfast this weekend is the first major test of whether contentious historical commemorations can pass off peacefully in Northern Ireland, a UDA leader has claimed.
Up to 10,000 marchers, including UVF and UDA paramilitaries, are expected to take part in a parade on Saturday marking the centenary of the Balmoral Review which was held to oppose Home Rule in advance of the drawing up of the Ulster Covenant. Tens of thousands more are expected to be spectators.
Security is expected to be tight amid fears that dissident republicans could try to disrupt the event with protests or a series of bomb alerts.
UDA chief Jackie McDonald, who will be among the participants, said organisers were hoping the march would pass off peacefully, but measures had been put in place to reduce the potential for disorder.
“Because of our history you have to be wary of the dangers — dissidents and possibly the ‘blue bag brigade’,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “But, anybody going there is going to pay respects and it will be dignified.
“Obviously if you live in the Short Strand you would be worried about what was going to happen. Nothing has happened in this way before. It is the first of the centenaries and it is important all round that it all goes according to plan. If everybody takes other people into consideration then you can ask the same in return when it comes to a nationalist or republican parade.”
The event, which organisers claim could be bigger than the Twelfth, will see about 70 bands make their way from Orange halls at Shankill Road, Sandy Row and Clifton Park Avenue from 10am through the city centre and east Belfast before converging on Ormeau Park for a religious service and festival from noon.
The UVF is expected to participate with some members dressed in the period costume of their forerunners the Ulster Volunteers — a militia which was set up in 1912 to oppose Home Rule.
A confidential UVF pamphlet, seen by this newspaper, said: “The organisation is not officially involved in the background or formatting of this event. However, we fully anticipate supplying 500 period dressed/uniformed men, to take part in the event, parading from the Ulster Hall to join with the main body at City Hall”.
Meanwhile, members of the UDA are also likely to attend and will be dressed in specially designed green blazers.
A source told this newspaper that the renegade UDA South East Antrim brigade would be in Belfast on Saturday.
“All of the UVF and UDA will not be there,” added Jackie McDonald. “There will be some representatives of course but there will be no paramilitary dress. I am sure the Somme Society will have military dress of the day, but paramilitary uniforms are a thing of the past.
“To be fair to the organisers, they have spoken to all the people they need to speak to and have taken every precaution. It seems to be a well-organised parade. But, you can never tell with outside elements. No one has any intention of wrongdoing. It is an Ulster Day, it should be dignified. It is for everybody who values their country and what people did for their country.”
Paramilitary emblems and regalia have been banned under a determination from the Parades Commission, which has also warned that no national flags should be burnt or defaced.
The Joint Unionist Centenary Committee (JUCC), an umbrella group for the County Grand Lodge of Belfast, Apprentice Boys, political parties, Independent Orange Order, the 36th (Ulster) Division Memorial Association and the Somme Association has appealed for participants and supporters to behave.
Stephen Gough, secretary of the JUCC, said alcohol had been banned from Ormeau Park and marshals will keep a watchful eye.
He added: “We are asking people to abide by a code of conduct.”
The Balmoral Review saw 200,000 people gather at Balmoral on the outskirts of Belfast on April 9, 1912, to protest against the introduction of the third Home Rule Bill. The crowd marched from the city centre. The event was addressed by Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party. Ormeau Park was chosen as Balmoral Showgrounds were unavailable.
Optimism for a dignified day... key figures urge a show of respect on both sides
Mervyn Gibson, Spokesman for County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast:
“We do not foresee any trouble. There is no indication that anybody that we have been talking to on the unionist front wants to create trouble and I do not think anyone from the nationalist side will want violence. But, you never know. There are always people who may want to drag us back to the past. There will be no paramilitaries on parade. It is a unionist parade and anybody who wants to celebrate the Ulster Covenant will be welcome.”
Stephen Gough, secretary of the Joint Ulster Centenary Committee:
“We have met as many people as possible and responded to all requests to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. We want a peaceful parade. It is not about creating tensions, it is about putting a positive spin on our culture. We do not want anything to take away from the actions of our forefathers 100 years ago.”
Jackie McDonald, UDA leader:
“All of the UVF or UDA will not be there. There will be some representatives of course. There will be no paramilitary dress. I am sure the Somme Society will have military dress of the day but paramilitary uniforms are a thing of the past. You do not see any of them any more and I expect that people who show up will be properly dressed and will be respectful to the important nature of the day. I am not worried at all about disorder. You have to think because of our history that we must be wary of the dangers — dissidents and possibly the ‘blue bag brigade’. But anybody there is going to pay respects and it will be dignified. Obviously, if you live in the Short Strand you would be worried about what was going to happen. It is the first of the centenaries and it is important all round that it all goes according to plan. If everybody takes other people into consideration then you can ask the same in return when it comes to a nationalist or republican parade.”
Kate Mullan, SDLP councillor in south Belfast:
“In the spirit of the decade of centenaries, the SDLP in Belfast City Council has promoted the idea of agreed protocols for the use of council facilities over this period.”
Jim Rodgers, Veteran Ulster Unionist councillor in Belfast:
“I will be participating as a member of the Orange Institution. This is a very important occasion. It is not anything about triumphalism, far from it. I have no doubt it will pass off without trouble. I am aware of concerns being raised by the police and some nationalist representatives. I was aware that they (paramilitary elements) are going to participate and among certain sections of our community that will not go down well.”
Christopher Stalford, DUP councillor:
“I will be attending the event with my local Orange Lodge. I think the organisers of this event have done all they can to ensure no difficulties arise. They are to be commended for the efforts they have gone to — to explain beyond the unionist tradition why this is a significant anniversary.
Bernie McConnell, Short Strand community worker:
“We hope that the parade will be carried out with respect. We hope that they march with dignity and respect for the communities they are passing. From the organisers’ point of view, they have to be accountable for the people they bring along. There is no planned protest at Short Strand. In fact, we are having diversionary events, taking teenagers away for the weekend.”
Martin Og Meehan, Republican Network for Unity:
“RNU is talking among ourselves and will be meeting later in the week to discuss this issue.
“As yet, no decision has been made regarding any protests.
“Personally speaking, as long as they stay away from nationalist homes and nationalist areas, I have no issue.
“If people want to celebrate their culture, I have no problem with that.”