Belfast Telegraph

UUP councillor in claim Belfast city centre dissident parade breached the rules

By Lauren Harte

Ulster unionist members of Belfast City Council are seeking a meeting with the Parades Commission and PSNI to voice their concerns surrounding a controversial anti-internment parade on Saturday.

Hundreds of dissident republicans paraded through Belfast city centre for the first time in four years after the Anti-Internment League was granted permission by the Parades Commission.

The annual parade, which started in 2013, marks the beginning of detention without trial, introduced at the height of the Troubles in 1971.

There was a heavy security operation as around 500 republicans and a number of flute bands gathered in Writers' Square before making their way along Royal Avenue to the City Hall, where speeches were made.

There had been concerns that trouble could erupt as two loyalist counter-demonstrations took place along the route.

However, despite a number of verbal exchanges between loyalists and marchers, the day passed off peacefully.

Organisers chose a route used by other less contentious marches in order to persuade the Parades Commission to allow it to take place.

However, restrictions were placed on the numbers who could attend.

The crowd was due to disperse at 2pm at City Hall, but the organisers notified the Parades Commission on Friday of their intention to hold a return parade through the city centre, finishing at Castle Street.

The Parades Commission ruled that participants could walk the return leg which, according to the organisers, was to provide a dispersal point for marchers.

But councillor Jim Rodgers said his party wanted to meet with senior police officers and the parading body as a matter of urgency.

He questioned why the parade's return leg was granted permission outside the 28-day notification period.

He said: "You are supposed to give 28 days' notice, and unless there is a good reason for this, you can face charges or be brought before the courts.

"This has happened in the past to those who break the rules.

"Furthermore, quite a few of the marchers were wearing paramilitary clothing and some of them have criminal convictions.

"We have received a large number of complaints from people who were in the city centre on Saturday afternoon to say that this was totally unacceptable.

"From the word go, we felt that it was wrong to allow this parade to proceed, particularly as it came up Royal Avenue, past a memorial to two murdered UDR soldiers."

Organiser Dee Fennell said: "We have decided to use this route this year. It is a route used by many campaigns, such as the LGBTQ campaign, May Day rallies, peace rallies and numerous others, so we wanted to utilise this route the same way other campaigns do," he said.

The Parades Commission said that in reaching its decision, it "considered the fundamental rights of citizens to exercise freedoms of assembly and expression at Belfast city centre in balance with the competing rights of others, and in full consideration of the potential impacts of the parade on community relations and community life, and the potential risks of public disorder". In 2015 there were clashes between the PSNI and republicans after officers stopped the anti-internment march from entering the city centre.

The previous year the parade went ahead amid a massive police operation, which saw streets blocked off hours in advance.

In 2013 around 56 PSNI officers were injured after loyalist protesters attacked the police during a parade.

The main speaker at the event, Mandy Duffy, who is vice-chair of dissident republican party Saoradh and sister-in-law of leading Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, told the crowd that republicans were being held in prisons under "draconian legislation".

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