Paramilitary flags raised as Orangemen march
A controversial loyalist parade takes place tonight, and there are fears of potential trouble as the parade passes nationalist communities in north Belfast, particularly around North Queen Street.
The ‘Tour of the North’ march, the first large contentious march of the Protestant marching season, includes 21 bands and more than 1,000 supporters and is organised by the Protestant Orange Order.
The Parades Commission has issued restrictions prohibiting marchers from entering sections of the route along Clifton Park Avenue and the Antrim Road and Duncairn Gardens.
Last year, trouble broke out after two feeder parades passed through the nationalist Ardoyne area.
Meanwhile, residents of a predominately nationalist County Antrim village have raised concerns over a major parade by the Orange Order on July 12, the largest marching day of the year.
The ‘Twelfth’ parade in Crumlin this year -- the first time the march has been held in the village for 14 years -- is being opposed by the Crumlin Residents’ Association.
The Parades Commission is set to make a decision on the parade on Tuesday.
Tensions have escalated across County Antrim after loyalist paramilitary flags were provocatively hoisted near Catholic churches and schools this week.
A number of British Union Jacks and ‘Northern Ireland’ flags have been placed outside Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare, fuelling fears that loyalists are deliberately cranking up tensions as the main marching season approaches.
Flags in support of the death squads of the UDA and the UVF’s youth wing, are also being flown outside St Nicholas’s Church and its neighbouring primary school in Carrickfergus.
Loyalist rioters went on the rampage through Ballyclare last summer after police removed flags from outside the town’s small Catholic church at Doagh Road. The violence spilled into Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey, in areas controlled by the breakaway South East Antrim UDA.
The PSNI later apologised for removing the flags, infuriating nationalists.
Sinn Fein assembly member Mitchel McLaughlin last night called for the latest flags to be taken down.
“I would appeal to unionist representatives to use their influence to have these flags erected at the weekend removed,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that following the serious outbreak of violence which occurred around this issue last year that individuals or organisations chose to erect these flags again this year.
“While no-one wishes to prevent communities from expressing their culture it should be done in a sensitive manner and with respect for the wishes of other traditions.”