An illegal march by the Protestant Orange Order passing a Catholic Church in east Belfast is expected to go ahead this weekend without interference from the PSNI police.
Almost 300 Orangemen are planning to take part in the parade past one of Belfast’s most notorious interfaces past at St Matthew’s Catholic Church on the Newtownards Road.
The area has been the scene of intense sectarian rioting in recent years, particularly in 2002, when a number of people were shot and homes were bombed.
A similar parade caused controversy last year after loyalist bands played inflammatory tunes outside St Matthew’s Church.
The organisers failed to lodge a proper application form with the Parades Commission. Nationalist residents have sought legal advice in a bid to halt the march, perceived as inflammatory ‘coat-trailing’ through their community.
Local Sinn Féin councillor and Deputy Mayor of Belfast, Joe O’Donnell, said it would be the second illegal parade to pass by the area in recent months. “If this march is allowed to go ahead it will show how willing the PSNI is to facilitate illegal parades in east Belfast,” said Mr O’Donnell. “If this was nationalists marching illegally past a unionist area, I am certain there would be serious security and legal repercussions.”
A spokesperson for the PSNI said that in the absence of a Parades Commission ruling, policing decisions taken in relation with any parade will be proportionate and appropriate. He added: “Police use all methods available to them to closely monitor parades and will have no hesitation in reporting breaches of the law to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
It is believed that the refusal by the Orange Order to file proper applications may be part of a loyal order tactic to ensure it is the PSNI which effectively rules on controversial parades.
A PSNI spokesman refused to say if the parade will be allowed to go ahead.
He said the policing operation would be “appropriate” and “proportionate”.