Irish Republican News · April 26, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

A decision by the Parades Commission to allow a sectarian march to pass through a republican area of west Belfast has reignited the issue of contentious parades in the North of Ireland.

The parade by the Protestant Orange Order involving unionist paramilitaries was forced through part of the Springfield Road on Saturday afternoon despite the Commission’s ruling last week that the march be rerouted from the area.

Hundreds of nationalists staged a peaceful protest on Saturday afternoon amid a major security operation.

The commissionpis decision also sparked impromptu protests across Belfast by nationalist community groups, who blocked a number of major routes. They expressed fears that the Commission may make further concessions if loyalists threaten further violence.

Nationalist community leaders were also praised for keeping protests peaceful despite immense anger.

Congratulating the protestors, Sinn FEin Assembly member Michael Ferguson said the message being sent to the British government was “very clear”.

“If nationalist communities are hemmed in and unable to move about their normal business then the same standard will be applied to everyone else,” he said.

“Nationalist communities will not be treated as second class. The British government need to understand clearly that the broad nationalist community is not prepared to simply sit back and watch small nationalist areas being besieged by the PSNI to force through unwanted parades.”

Last week, road blockades by unionists, coupled with heavy aggression and intimidation of motorists, appeared to coerce the Parades Commission into making a late reversal of its decision.

The commission claimed talks with unionist and paramilitary representatives had encouraged it to change its mind.

No tunes were played as the parade passed and paramilitary flags were kept furled during the 10-minute procession.

However, Sean Paul OpiHare, Springfield Residents Association spokesman, said the U-turn by the Parades Commission had “shattered” community relations.

“The residents are still extremely angry at the decision,” he said.

“They feel they have been treated very, very poorly by the Parades Commission. Community relations are shattered, what are the Parades Commission going to do in the next weeks to resolve that?”

Mr OpiHare said residents were “very wary” about future parades in the area.

“We are receiving mixed messages from the Orange Order. Obviously people are very wary of what is going to happen.”

Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskey described the event as a “shameful spectacle”.

“It was a victory for intimidation, violence and threats,” he said.

“Nationalists across the island are angry at the events of the past few days and are watching closely to see if further unionist threats are rewarded with other parades being forced through nationalist areas.”

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© 2004 Irish Republican News