Irish Republican News · July 16, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

British paratroopers came within seconds of firing live rounds at nationalist protestors during a Protestant march in Ardoyne, it has emerged.

British army officials have said soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, who were engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with nationalist rioters on Ardoyne Road in north Belfast on Monday night, came close to opening fire.

Hundreds of unionist paramilitaries and supporters of the Orange Order were forced through a nationalist area in apparent contravention of a ruling by the Parades Commission.

Troops came under attack when nationalist residents learned that they legally binding determination had been overruled.

One British army source has claimed that the troops would have been entitled to kill.

“If a soldier feels that his life or the life of his fellow soldiers is at risk, he has the legitimate right to use lethal force.

“The soldiers involved found themselves in an extremely dangerous situation and did consider that their lives were at risk.

“They would have been within their rights to open fire if they had done so.”

Another said: “It was an extremely violent situation and they came very close to using baton and live rounds on the crowd.”

Senior republicans, including Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly, controversially intervened in an effort to calm the situation.

Although their actions bolstered its reputation as a moderate nationalist party, republican hardliners have condemned what they describe as the intervention of “counter revolutionary elements intent on undermining resistance to British Rule”.

In a statement, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement said it fully supported the nationalist community in Ardoyne in “defending the community against the British Army, RUC and pro-British elements”.

“It is with a degree of regret however that we note that many of these people, instead of being praised for their actions, will recieve a black mark against their names or worse and will no doubt be labelled troublemakers...”

Mr Kelly defended his actions against the rioters.

“I am an elected representative. We are in a peace process. I was there to represent residents and sometimes that means arguing against some of them. I was there because I have certain principles,” he said.

“I believe in what I am doing, and I will continue to do it, even if that means you end up falling out with people, maybe, that were friends with you the day before,” he said, adding: “We managed to save lives.”

The Parades Commission, which placed restrictions on the parade, has refused to comment on the PSNI’s actions.

Mr Kelly insisted that a “dirty deal was done” involving the British government, unionist politicians, the Orange Order and the PSNI to allow the marchers to coat-trail past Ardoyne shops.

Orangemen had claimed the Commission’s remit is limited to its own marchers and bands, and does not extend to the actions of parade followers.


Meanwhile, the Policing Board, which was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement to hold the PSNI police in the North to account, has been accused of ‘going native’ in its response.

Policing Board chairman Des Rea has been strongly criticised for saying that the PSNI was placed in a “no-win situation” during a contentious parade in north Belfast.

The statement appears to prejudge a report he himself commissioned.

Professor Rea said yesterday that he had called on Hugh Orde to give the body a full report on the policing of this year’s parades at its next meeting in September.

Gerry Kelly branded Prof Rea’s comments “pathetic”.

“Des Rea and his colleagues are increasingly seen as little more than a rubber-stamping body for PSNI operations. They are incapable of exercising effective accountability over the PSNI because they do not have the power to do so,” he said.

“The activities of the PSNI in the past week in Ardoyne and Lurgan prove once again that the Sinn Féin assessment on policing is the correct one.”

SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said: “I don’t know who Des Rea thinks he is speaking for, but it is certainly not the SDLP members of the Policing Board and the many thousands who support them across the north.

“He needs to stand back and see the damage that has been done by bad government and bad policing.”

Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew has warned that the SDLP was in “disarray” over its stance on policing.

“The party leader tells us that the Policing Board is the vehicle for accountability, while other senior members are calling for the party to leave the current flawed policing structures entirely,” she said.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News