A demonstration by former British soldiers in Belfast city and a counter-demonstration by republican group Saoradh have both passed off peacefully on Good Friday.
There was a heavy Crown Force presence outside City Hall and a tense atmosphere. However, both protests dispersed without incident.
The rally for the British Army was organised by former soldiers over what they describe as a “witch-hunt” over state killings and British war crimes in the north of Ireland. They were joined by unionists and loyalists waving Union Jacks, but outnumbered by the hundreds who turned out for a nationalist counter-rally.
A previous rally by the soldiers in Derry, near the site of their Bloody Sunday massacre, was called off in the face of a similar protest by Saoradh.
Pinned back by police some distance away from City Hall, the republicans held placards in support of victims of notorious British Army killings. “British state murderers have Irish blood on their hands,” some read.
Saoradh said they were demonstrating “in opposition to paid mercenaries of British rule in Ireland”. It urged participants not to allow themselves be intimidated or provoked by the police.
Speaking at the rally, Fionnuala Perry, Saoradh Vice Chairperson, said sixty thousand medals had been awarded by the queen of England “to her colonial soldiers, including the murderers who stand not far from here, all in the name of queen and country”.
She called for a minute’s silence before introducing Saoradh chairman David Jordan. He told the crowd: “Today’s co-called veterans’ rally, or imperialist murderers’ rally, is the extension of the imperialist agenda to carefully foster divisions in this country.”
A group of relatives whose loved ones were killed by British soldiers on the streets of Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 also held a silent protest. John Teggart, whose father was shot dead in the massacre, said it was a difficult day for him.
“We have veterans across the road from us today and among that crowd could be suspects involved in the murder of our loved ones,” he said.
“They are looking for immunity, an amnesty from prosecution, and there are families here without any justice or legal address. My father was shot 14 times by the paratroopers. I’m gutted this (veterans’ rally) has been allowed to go ahead.”