An anti-internment march passed through Belfast city centre without major violence last weekend, although two people were injured by loyalists who threw fireworks and other missiles at the annual demonstration.
The event was also marred by sectarian jeering and sniping by both protestors and marchers, but the march passed off without the large scale rioting which took place in the heart of Belfast city centre last year, when the march was blocked from following its permitted route.
A heavy PSNI presence and large metal screens erected nearby failed to prevent the violence by drunken loyalist ‘protestors’, who numbered several hundred and accosted passers-by from early in the day.
Fireworks were tossed into the middle of marchers and umbrellas hurled as spears by the loyalist mob.
Earlier, despite inclement weather, thousands of marchers gathered in Ardoyne.
Nearby, a group of former political prisoners from the area unveiled a new wall mural dedicated to past and present PoWs’ in Ardoyne Avenue. The new group, the ‘Principled Republican Ex-POWs’, said the mural depicts the battle of wills between Irish Republican Prisoners, their Oppressors and Institutions.
A statement was read out declaring that over the past number of years Republican principles have been “diluted to the point of non-recognition”.
“As principled Republicans, we cannot buy into the stabilising of partition, policies of appeasement and acceptance of political policing and all its corrupt powers including, Diplock Courts, Internment by Remand and degrading treatment of PoWW,” they said.
After the march set off, its numbers were swelled along the route with groups joining in at the New Lodge and also at Donegall Street.
The march travelled from the north of the city along Royal Avenue, up Castle Street and on to the Falls Road into west Belfast.
Although it did not pass through any sectarian interfaces, loyalists insisted on staging counter-protests in the city centre Royal Avenue shopping district. They were led by Willie Frazer, a prominent South Armagh loyalist.
As the estimated 3,000 republican marchers and bands approached the loyalists, a cacophony of boos and jeers before missiles and fireworks were thrown.
In the end, the parade passed through in less than fifteen minutes. Organisers expressed satisfaction that it had successfully brought the issues of internment, the plight of prisoners and ongoing civil rights and justice issues to public attention.
MARCHING SEASON PROGRESS
The previous day, the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABOD) parade in Derry marking the Relief of Derry in 1689 from a siege by the forces of King James also took place peacefully.
A loyalist band parade in the nationalist village of Rasharkin in County Antrim on Friday now represents one of the few remaining contentious parades of the season.
Bands taking part in the march on August 22 have been ordered not to play tunes while passing along a stretch of the Main Street. Sinn Fein assembly member Daithi McKay said the restriction was “a step in the right direction”.
The determination comes days after an uncle of three children killed in a UVF arson attack called for the parade to be banned.
Frankie Quinn’s nephews Richard (11), Mark (10) and Jason (9) Quinn died after their home in nearby Ballymoney was petrol-bombed on July 12 1998.
The boys are buried side-by-side in St Mary’s cemetery in their mother’s native Rasharkin, while several members of the family live in the village including their grandmother Irene Patton.
During previous parades through the village loyalists have taunted them by shouting “Kentucky fried Quinn” and “Castlerock” - a reference to the UDA murder of four Catholic men in the County Derry village in 1993.
Sean Hanna of the Rasharkin Residents’ Collective gave the Parades Commission determination a cautious welcome.
“I think it really did register with them (Parades Commission) that there are people in the village and it was reopening old wounds for them,” he said.