A loyalist mob staged a ‘show of strength’ on Saturday to intimidate Catholics from entering the town centre despite the PSNI having advance knowledge of the planned incident.
The SDLP and Sinn Fein are expected to ask formally for a Policing Board investigation into how the PSNI policed the events of Saturday night, which ended in a major riot.
Text messages used to advertise the event had circulated widely across the North for weeks, and had been discussed on the internet and the mainstream media. The messages urged loyalists to gather outside the bar “to show republicans that we will not tolerate their behaviour or presence in our area”.
It was the latest incident in recent months in which PSNI tactics lor policing loyalist violence had been called into question.
In May the then PSNI chief, Hugh Orde, asked the Police Ombudsman’s office to investigate claims that police had failed to intervene during a loyalist attack in Coleraine, County Derry, that resulted in the death of Catholic father-of-four Kevin McDaid.
Mr McDaid’s family also raised concerns that police had been involved in “negotiations” with loyalists on the day of his death and might have had prior warning of a threat of loyalist violence unless Irish tricolours were removed from the Heights estate where he lived.
In August a Catholic family accused the PSNI of “escorting” an illegal loyalist march, including masked paramilitaries, to their home in Lame, Co Antrim.
In July, the PSNI allowed a group of 200 loyalists to march around a loyalist estate in Derry city as part of a UDA ‘show of strength’.
Local SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly said the loyalist intimidation should have been stopped.
“The fundamental point is that a very substantial group of people are determined to deny access to the town centre for all,” she said.
Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition spokesman Breandan Mac Cionnaith said: “By permitting this intimidatory mob to assemble last night in the first place, the PSNI ensured a clear message was sent out signalling that Portadown town centre is not a welcome or safe place at night for Catholics or nationalists.
“That is totally and completely objectionable and abhorrent and cannot be justified under any circumstances.”
A PSNI spokeswoman said they were aware of the text messages being circulated and appropriate resources had been put in place to deal with the “illegal gathering”.