A loyalist mob is planning to confront a nationalist parade seeking housing equality in north Belfast.
The parade, organised by the North Belfast Civil Rights association (NBCRA), has been organised on Saturday, February 1 to raise concerns about the sectarian development of the former Girdwood British army barracks on the Antrim Road.
There are also concerns over other planned developments, such as a leisure centre to be built on the site of the recently closed PSNI station on North Queen street and a multi-story car park on a site originally earmarked for social housing at nearby Frederick street.
Spokesman for the NBCRA, Paul Little, said the march was being organised solely to highlight social issues. Representatives of the main nationalist parties and independent candidates taking part in this year’s local government elections will be invited to speak at the event.
“Given the current climate, it is with great reluctance that we feel the need to publicly demonstrate for equal housing rights in north Belfast,” he said.
“However, the continued disparity in housing allocation and the provision of new and planned housing in north Belfast perpetuates the age old, systematic discrimination against the non-unionist community,” he said.
Mr Little called for “imaginative solutions” to the problems of the area including housing, health, and unemployment.
But he said he did not understood why loyalists were organising a counter-protest, notified as reaching up to one thousand in number. One of the loyalist groups involved was linked to an intense riot in Belfast city centre last August which erupted over a republican anti-internment march.
“What are they protesting against?” he said. “Are they protesting against equality issues? We are not marching through any controversial areas. What is their position on housing discrimination and what’s their answer to it?”
The civil rights parade and counter-protest are scheduled to take place on the same day as a loyalist protest march linked to the ongoing dispute at the Twaddell/Ardoyne interface over sectarian parades.
Meanwhile, another controversial loyalist group - ‘Loyal Peaceful Protesters’ - plans to bring up to 10,000 people and 30 bands through Belfast city centre this Saturday.
Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly called for that parade to be called off.
“If this is the answer from loyalist bands to the Haass talks then clearly they have no interest in reaching a resolution to parading problems,” he said.
“This is obviously all about increasing tension and with this type of attitude we could be heading for another contentious summer of loyalist parading. The organisers should show a bit of common sense and withdraw the application.”