Red Hand Defenders defy Parades Commission
The Red Hand Defenders and supporting loyalist bands ignored restrictions placed upon a march in County Down last weekend. In direct contravention of rulings by the Parades Commission, loyalist marchers carried emblems of loyalist paramilitary groups, chanted sectarian slogans, threw stones and bottles, attempted to breach a barrier into a nationalist area and refused to disperse at the allotted time.
In an attempt to defuse tension, Downpatrick residents cancelled a protest rally following the Parades Commission ruling which refused to allow loyalist bands into the predominantly nationalist town. In recent years, the RHD demonstration has been confined to the Belfast Road.
Loyalists attending the band parade jeered and goaded members of the media and the RUC, with violence erupting just before the Parades Commission's watershed of 10.30pm.
Loyalists threw bottles and fireworks and at one point stormed the barricades to the cheers of their supporters. DUP Councillor Jim Wells, speaking on behalf of the RHD, described the loyalist community as ``frustrated and angry.''
A spokesperson for the community based Down Peace Forum disputed the RHD's claim that a parade in Downpatrick was traditional. ``It is viewed with some scepticism,'' he said.
``The RHD transferred their 1997 demonstration from Downpatrick to Ballynahinch at the request of the Orange Order and this year deliberately brought it forward three months to heighten tension in the run up to Drumcree. The RHD is now threatening to petition the Parades Commission every week until they are allowed a coat trailing exercise in Downpatrick.''
Loyalists raise tension in South Down
Sinn Féin Assembly member Mick Murphy accused loyalists in the Mournes and South Down area of attempting to raise tensions after the erection of UFF and UVF flags in Kilkeel and Annalong ahead of a loyalist parade into a nationalist enclave. Murphy described the flags as an attempt to intimidate nationalists, particularly in the wake of a recent sectarian pipe bomb attack.
``The festooning of Kilkeel town centre with flags glorifying sectarian killer gangs is a calculated insult,'' said Murphy. The Assembly member criticised the failure of the RUC to challenge loyalists painting kerbstones red white and blue. ``Last year, the RUC charged two young nationalist girls for painting out UVF slogans at the very same corner,'' said Murphy.
Commenting on RUC claims that they had been attacked by nationalist residents protesting at a loyalist parade in Annalong on Saturday night, Murphy said they were a `tissue of lies'. ``The RUC are attempting to cover up the sectarian behaviour of their own officers who assaulted several nationalists on private property,'' he said.
Criticising the Parades Commission's decision to allow the parade to take place in the first place, Murphy described the decision as ``flawed from its inception'' and added that it had ``simply facilitated a sectarian coat trailing exercise by bands that refused all offers of local dialogue.''
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Councillor Brian Cunningham has criticisd the Parades Commission ruling to allow an Orange Order parade through Keady on July 9. ``The Commission has rewarded the Orange Order for its intransigence for the third year running,'' he said.
``Triumphalist Orange parades of any nature are not welcome in nationalist areas and the Orange Order must be encouraged to enter into face to face dialogue with residents groups at every opportunity.''
Springfield Road Residents call for rerouting
Residents in the nationalist Springfield Road area of West Belfast have petitioned the Parades Commission to reroute an Orange Parade scheduled to march through the nationalist area on 12 July after restrictions were ignored by a similar parade last week.
In the submission, residents point out that a number of serious breaches of the conditions outlined in the Commission's determination were evident during last Saturday's Orange Order march. These include:
• Unacceptable provocative displays and gestures including a UFF/UDA colour party and two seperate UVF colour parties attached to bands.
• Sectarian tunes played over a public address system in breach of the Commission's ban on band music.
• The stewarding of the parade by well known loyalist paramilitaries and an illegal march down the Springfield Road by bands and loyalist colour parties before rejoining the Orange Order's main parade.
The breaches came to light after an amateur video of the parade was released to the media.
Garvaghy Residents condemn inaction
The Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition has called on the British government to explain the lack of action against both the LVF and UFF following two shows of strength by both loyalist paramilitary groups in Portadown this week.
A spokesperson for the GRRC said: ``These sinister displays were designed to frighten and intimidate Catholics, not just in Portadown but right across the North. Many ordinary Catholics would see these displays as being in contravention of commitments not to use the threat of violence for political ends. The British government clearly has a duty to respond.''
The residents' group also called on the British Secretary of State to publically release figures for the number of loyalists arrested and charged since midday on Sunday, the number of violent incidents that have been recorded, and the amount of damage done.