Belfast Telegraph

Relief at peaceful parades: Major security operation in Belfast ensures no repeat of violent scenes

BY CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Two contentious parades, one loyalist and one republican, have passed off peacefully amid a major security operation in Belfast city centre.

A march by the Royal Black Preceptory yesterday afternoon passed a flashpoint at St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street and returned without incident.

No Parades Commission rulings were thought to have been broken.

Four districts and two bands were involved in the Belfast Grand Black Chapter parade, while three small nationalist protests were also allowed near the contentious section of the route.

Only "respectful hymns" were allowed to be played by the loyalist band and supporters were not allowed to follow them.

A contentious republican parade in the same area which had been condemned as "provocative and confrontational" also went off without major incident.

Around 200 people and two bands took part in the parade led by the Henry Joy McCracken flute band to commemorate the United Irishmen leader executed in 1798.

The Parades Commission determination ruled those marching would not be allowed to proceed past the junction of Victoria Parade and it was rerouted away from Clifton Street.

That route last year sparked three days of loyalist riots.

Two counter loyalist protests took place on Clifton Street with around 200 people taking to the streets, despite a Parades Commission limit on numbers.

The Greater Concerned Residents Group and the Concerned Residents Group Shankill were both on the same location and had been restricted by the Parades Commission to just 10 per group.

The large crowd blocked the main junction of the Antrim Road, Crumlin Road and Clifton Street, with many blowing whistles and some playing football.

Restrictions were placed on the Royal Black march after violence erupted close to St Patrick's church during a similar demonstration on the same date last year.

On the Twelfth last year a loyalist band was also filmed playing a sectarian song while marching in a circle outside the church.

Around 20 nationalist protesters gathered opposite the church said they were relieved there was no violence.

However, they said there had to be an end to the disruption caused by "constant" parading in the area during the marching season.

Frank Dempsey of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Association said that the hymn-playing on the return parade was "too loud" and not respectful.

He said there was also confusion among residents over restrictions placed on the same bands passing St Patrick's church on different days.

Speaking about a lack of communication between loyal bands and residents, he added: "If they want to talk we are here."

Kieran Cunningham of the Republican Network for Unity made a speech to the crowd in that parade, claiming that the rerouting of the march was a "polite way of banning our route" and that they had been "effectively strangled" by the Parades Commission.

Fr Michael Sheehan of St Patrick's said he was pleased that the afternoon had passed off peacefully. He said disruption was kept to a minimum.

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