Although with far fewer in attendance than they had predicted, organisers of a loyalist march on Saturday sought the maximum provocation of the nationalist community.
Two members of the PSNI police were injured during the demonstration against last year’s decision by Belfast City Council to reduce the number of days on which the British flag flies over Belfast City Hall.
The two were injured -- one of them knocked unconscious -- as loyalists left the parade’s designated route on the Shankill and broke the parade conditions on several occasions.
Earlier, a steward at the head of the loyalist protest told marchers to slow “right down” to stretch out sectarian music that was struck up by a UDA band, just as it passed a nationalist flashpoint.
The order was given as the march, which had already breached its conditions, made its way along North Street towards the Catholic Carrick Hill area.
About 1,000 people had earlier stood at Belfast City Hall in an hour-long defiance of a Parades Commission ruling that the procession had to leave it no later than noon.
Leading the parade was the Cloughfern Young Conquerors, a band which slowed down to play ‘The Sash’ and other sectarian tunes near nationalist Carrick Hill. The ‘kick-the-Pope’ band is dedicated to the UDA’s John Gregg, who once attempted the assassination of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
A number of loyalists draped in Union Jacks and bunting lined the road at the interface and joined in singing the anthem, which was accompanied by heaving drumming.
Earlier, marches also stopped to play sectarian tunes outside a city centre shop which sells Irish-themed souvenirs to tourists.
The conditions set out by the Parades Commission had requested participants and supporters “refrain from using words or behaviour which could reasonably be perceived as intentionally sectarian.”
The protest fell dismally short of ten thousand marchers and supporters that the parade organisers had planned for. Despite the low turnout, the parade succeeded in its goal of shutting Belfast city centre, on one of the busiest days of the year.
On Tuesday, a follow-up protest of about 150 loyalists again took place outside Belfast city council marking the exact anniversary of the flag decision.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has strongly criticised the Parades Commission after it ruled that a loyalist organisation could march twice through a nationalist area of Castlederg, County Tyrone this Saturday, December 7th.
The Apprentice Boys will march through the town on Saturday morning and evening, including a morning parade through the nationalist Ferguson Crescent area.
The ‘feeder’ parades are part of the annual Lundy’s Day parade in Derry on Saturday. Around 2,500 Apprentice Boys are expected to take part in the main Derry parade.
There have been heightened community tensions in Castlederg following dozens of loyalist parades and a controversial republican commemoration over the summer.
Local Sinn Fein councillor Ruairi McHugh said it is the first time a loyalist march has been allowed to pass through Ferguson Crescent, without restrictions, since 2006.
It is understood there was no attempt to consult with people in Ferguson Crescent about the march. Mr McHugh accused the commission of “double standards”.
“There has been upwards of 20 unionist parades of one type or another in Castlederg this year alone, which is totally disproportionate given the demographics of the town,” he said.
“This determination stands in stark contrast to the sole Republican commemoration this year in August which the commission blocked from even entering our own town centre, which made a mockery of the town centre being a shared space for all communities in Castlederg.
“It seems some are more equal than others in Castlederg in the eyes of the Parades Commission.”