Despite efforts this week to play down the threat of violence, fears remain that loyalist hardliners will riot as a sectarian parade is rerouted from the Crumlin Road in north Belfast this Saturday evening, July 12th.
Last year, the same situation resulted in sustained rioting by loyalists.
The anti-Catholic Orange Order has called for peaceful protests, but tensions are still high after a ‘pan-loyalist front’ including DUP leader Peter Robinson, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and loyalist paramilitaries adopted a hardline approach as they pulled out of multi-party talks. At the time, they said plans were under way for an escalating “graduated” response to the decision by the Parades Commission to restrict the return Twelfth feeder parade through republican Ardoyne.
The PSNI have now erected steel security barriers at the top of the Woodvale Road close to Holy Cross church in north Belfast. Barriers were also being placed along the Albertbridge Road in east Belfast with one of the largest parades in the Six Counties due to pass the nationalist Short Strand. There were clashes between loyalists and nationalists in the area last year.
Around 1,100 PSNI officers will be in Belfast, with a significant number of those stationed at the Ardoyne interface with Twaddell. Reinforcements from England are said to be “on standby” if needed.
Earlier this week, a senior member of the Orange Order has threatened that the decision to ban a parade from passing nationalist homes in Ardoyne “will spread into the sphere of politics and governance”.
Grand secretary of the Orange Order Drew Nelson made the comments as members gathered in Portadown for their annual Drumcree church parade. The parade has been banned from passing through the Garvaghy Road area since 1998.
Mr Nelson said the Parades Commission decision regarding Ardoyne was “misguided” and “brought into sharp focus their unwillingness to stand up to persistent threats of physical force protest, or indeed violence.”
“I therefore expect that the unionist and loyalist family’s reaction will continue well after the parading season has finished and will spread into the sphere of politics and governance,” he said.
In a new departure, the Orange Order later joined unionists in demanding a government-led inquiry to the parades impasse.
Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective (Garc) spokesman Dee Fennell rejected suggestions that there had been any threat of violence by nationalists before the parade decision was announced.
He also pointed to violent incidents linked to Orange Order protests at Drumcree including the UVF murder of Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick in Portadown in July 1996 and a loyalist arson attack that killed the three Quinn brothers in Ballymoney in Co Antrim in 1998.
“At no stage has Garc made any threats of violence, indeed appeals from Garc, right from our inception have been that protests should be peaceful, non violent and radical,” he said.
“We refuse to take any lectures from the Orange Order with regards to threats being made to overturn parading decisions especially when you consider the history with, for example the murder of Michael McGoldrick in Portadown and the murders of the Quinn children in Ballymoney.
“They were totally shameful episodes.”
Sinn Féin North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly said that nothing should be done to help unionists undermine the Parades Commission.
“The Parades Commission was set up and constituted by statute as an independent body to deal with disputed parades,” he said. “Unionists are asking for a Commission of Inquiry simply because they didn’t get their own way.”
SDLP North Belfast Assembly member Alban Maginness said that the unionists’ ‘graduated response’ was a threat to law and order and will only cause further community divisions. He said the call for protests had caused “uncertainty” and “fear” and questioned how the Orange Order planned to maintain the peace at their parades.
“It is irresponsible in the extreme to call crowds onto the streets in the knowledge that you cannot control the situation when they arrive,” he said. “That represents a dereliction of duty and a deficit of leadership.”
MASS CLASH FEARED
Tensions are also high around the nationalist district of Carrick Hill and St Patrick’s church after it emerged a planned Orange parade could clash with church services. The church has been a regular target for sectarian insults by loyalist bandsmen in recent years.
Up to 10,000 Orangemen and 25 bands are expected to pass the Donegall Street church as they make their way back from their annual Twelfth demonstration. Residents are concerned that the PSNI may attempt to obstruct local people attending the church.
Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ spokesman Frank Dempsey said that the parade should not be allowed to pass the church if it arrives at Donegall Street late and clashes with Mass.
“If the parade fails to adhere to going past St Patrick’s before Mass is started it should be rerouted up the Shankill,” he said.