Loyalists who wore balaclavas during a ‘show of strength’ close to a north Belfast interface were taking part in “street theatre”, according to the Stormont-funded ‘Ulster Political Research Group’ which has links to the unionist paramilitary UDA.
More than 1,000 people and three old British Army Land Rovers took part in the parade to Twaddell Avenue on Tuesday evening of last week.
It marked 250 days since a ban on sectarian marches by the Orange Order past the nationalist Ardoyne shops interface. Loyalists continue to hold nightly protests close to the interface since the July 12 restrictions were imposed.
The military vehicles, one of which had an Israeli flag attached to the bonnet, were driven by men in combat-style clothing wearing balaclava face masks.
Gerald Solinas of the UPRG told journalists there was “nothing sinister” about the group’s parade. “The guys who were driving the Land Rovers did have balaclavas on,” he said. “But it was nothing sinister, it was more to hide their work situation, to hide their identity.”
STORMONT’S HATE FUND
The UPRG has typically functioned as the political representatives of the UDA death squads. Mr Solinas had insisted that, despite the inclusion of armoured vehicles and a variety of paramilitary flags, no-one could mistake the parade for a paramilitary demonstration.
“These military vehicles had women on them, they had kids on them. There was nothing threatening whatsoever about these military vehicles,” he said.
Mr Solinas rejected Mr Kelly’s claim that the parade was a “paramilitary show of strength”. “This was street theatre, which is what I said to Gerry Kelly on Twitter,” he said.
It has also been confirmed that a 200,000 pound a year scheme aimed at reducing tensions at loyalist bonfire sites saw tricolours and other nationalist emblems being burned. Among the more outrageous items placed on Stormont-funded bonfires were a statue of our Lady, an effigy of a Catholic priest who had died by suicide and a reference to a Catholic teenager killed in a sectarian attack. An investigation is understood to be underway.
Meanwhile, the use of bilingual (Irish-English) street signs has been banned in some nationalist areas. An applications for dual language signs in Ballymurphy Drive in Belfast was refused after only one person objected. It is currently the subject of a High Court challenge by resident Eileen Reid.
Current council policy marked those who did not respond to a poll as being against the erection of the bilingual sign. “This is clearly unjust,” said Sinn Fein councillor Caoimhin Mac Giolla Mhin. “The fact that Belfast City Council will not accept the wishes of a majority of respondents is quite bizarre.”