Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist protest: PSNI policing operation played to perfection


What we watched on Saturday was not a 'stand on' but 'stand back' policing operation.

It had two key elements that a senior officer described in the build-up to the march – high visibility and hidden assets.

The softer image was what we saw in the shopping zone, with officers in full riot kit in Land Rovers parked in nearby streets.

Once again, it was a big numbers and big cost operation – preparing for the worst, hoping for the best– but there was no sense of high tension in the city centre.

While the Parades Commission ruling on times was broken, the march was gone sooner than expected. It wasn't as big as predicted – taking about 10 minutes to clear the junction at Royal Avenue and North Street.

"For all the bravado (about numbers), it was flat," was the assessment of one observer.

The police planned to get protesters in and out without trouble or damage. That was achieved.

At Carrick Hill there was a harder image – Land Rovers, dog teams and officers in public order kit. But the one incident, in which two officers were hurt, came further up the road and well away from the city centre.

What we also saw within the parade was evidence of the developing bust-up within the UDA.

A banner belonging to the UDA-linked UPRG in north Belfast was altered to include the words 'under new management'.

The current UDA/UPRG leadership there has not been overthrown, but that type of coup is clearly the intention of some.

It is a power-play involving expelled members with suggestions that they are being supported by a number of senior paramilitary figures on the Shankill.

Police are monitoring the situation. Developments are expected over the next 24-48 hours.

Many different loyalist interests are at play – some are chasing votes while, almost 20 years after the ceasefires, others inside the UDA remain interested in paramilitary rank and power.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson also took part in Saturday's march.

He is expected to return to Belfast City Council politics in January, replacing the retiring Hugh Smyth.

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