Three men were stabbed and there were a number of other sectarian incidents last weekend around the annual ‘Twelfth of July’ marches, but the events themselves took place without serious disorder.
The most contentious of the sectarian marches by the Protestant Orange Order took place with a peaceful protest. Orangemen gathered at Woodvale in north Belfast against the rerouting of a feeder parade away from the nearby nationalist Ardoyne area, but rejected the riots seen in previous years.
However, in nearby Carrick Hill, there were multiple and flagrant breaches of the Parades Commission’s determinations on the march past St Patrick’s church.
The parade was deliberately delayed in order to clash with Saturday vigil Mass at St Patrick’s. During the procession several Orangemen made obscene one-fingered gestures towards nationalist residents gathered on a footpath opposite the church.
The commission had ordered bands not to play music on a section of road outside the church, but the majority of bands taking part ignored the ban. One band, the ‘Glasgow Orange Defenders’ which boasts of its links to the UVF played sectarian tunes while the parade passed the church itself.
In Portadown, the PSNI was condemned for permitting Orangemen to gather on the lower Garvaghy Road on July 12th, in defiance of a recent ruling by the Parades Commission.
Residents spokesman Breandan MacCionnaith said the PSNI have had an almost “permanent presence” in the area since a loyalist arch was put up on the road.
“Despite that almost permanent presence and repeat Parades Commission determinations which clearly prohibit members of the Orange Order from entering any part of the Garvaghy Road, it is patently obvious that the PSNI in Portadown clearly chose to facilitate this gathering early on Saturday morning,” he said.
“It would appear that the PSNI in Portadown is openly operating a policy of appeasement towards unionism and Orangeism and is also acting in total contravention of its legal obligations to uphold and enforce rulings of the Parades Commission.”
Sinn Fein Upper Bann assembly member John O’Dowd said the latest incident was a “clear breach of a Parades Commissions determination” and voiced concerns about the conduct of the PSNI, who he said had blankly denied the incident took place.
“I will be seeking a full explanation from police as to why they claimed to unaware of this illegal assembly,” he said. “If I am not satisfied with their response I will hand the matter over to the Police Ombudsman.”
The renewed tensions on the Garvaghy Road resulted a mini-riot on Monday night, when nationalist youths hurled petrol bombs at the PSNI and set several bins on fire. Between six and eight petrol bombs were thrown during the disturbances in the Ballyoran area of the town, and bins were set alight.
But the worst of the violence last weekend took place in Belfast on the ‘Eleventh Night’, the annual event when dozens of intimidatory bonfires are set alight by loyalists.
In south Belfast, nationalists were attacked at Ormeau Bridge in a mass sectarian assault and one man was stabbed. Stabbings also took place in the vicinity of bonfires in east Belfast at Montrose Street and in Ligoniel in north Belfast, and two men were hospitalised.
There were scattered disturbances over the following days linked to loyalist anger at the Ardoyne decision, with two petrol bomb attacks on PSNI stations.
A PSNI station in east Belfast was attacked by loyalists with two petrol bombs on Sunday. The devices were thrown at Willowfield station. A petrol bomb and paintbombs were also used to attack another PSNI station in east Belfast as well as a Catholic church and a community organisation on Tuesday night. The front doors of St Anthony’s Catholic Church, Woodstock Road were paint-bombed, while the PSNI station at Woodstock Road was struck by a petrol bomb.
Elsewhere, a Catholic church in County Down was wrecked and seven windows smashed in the latest in a series of such incidents in the area this month. St Patrick’s Church in Downpatrick was targeted overnight on Tuesday. During the attack, the sacristy, toilets and a special shrine in honour of St Patrick were damaged. The attackers were prevented from going further to cause more damage by an outer door which had been locked.
The break-in comes a week after another County Down church, Our Lady of Angels Church in Kilkeel, was similarly attacked. During that attack, religious statues were smashed while a number of crosses and pews were also targeted. Local clergy have played down sectarian tensions in the area, and have described the incidents only as “vandalism”.
Meanwhile, a young Catholic man had his jaw broken in a sectarian attack in Ballymena. The victim was set upon by three loyalists as he walked through a park in the Smithfield area of the town on July 11th. The man, who is in his early twenties, was subjected to sectarian abuse and taunts during the mob assault.
PICTURES OF HATE
Intimidatory imagery was again a feature of the Twelfth this year. Along with hundreds of posters of nationalist politicians, an effigy of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was hung from a gallows on one Eleventh bonfire before being set alight.
There was also shock among nationalists at a tribute to a sectarian serial killer, Wesley Somerville, which appeared on a lamp-post near the nationalist town of Dungannon, County Tyrone.
But there was widespread concern when an image of a five-year-old girl emerged celebrating at a Twelfth event with ‘KAT’, an acronym for ‘Kill All Taigs’, painted on her forehead. SDLP assembly member for North Belfast Alban Maginness described the face-painting as “sectarianism as its worst”.
“It is appalling that a youngster is used in this way to get a profoundly sectarian and vicious message across,” he said.