Row over policing of sectarian marches
Row over policing of sectarian marches

The issue of who should police contentious loyalist parades reached a head this week after dissident republicans accused former Provisional IRA prisoners of facilitating a coat-trailing sectarian parade through republican north Belfast.

The ‘Tour of the North’ parade this year saw a small number of missiles thrown at marchers as the parade passed through the Ardoyne area, but otherwise passed quietly. The PSNI kept a low profile as Sinn Féin stewards, includiung ex-PoWs, controversially took up look-out security positions normally used by the police or British Army.

Previous attempts to force the highly contentious parade through the staunchly republican area has seen rioting in years past, notably in 2004.

Nevertheless, loyalists accused Sinn Féin of not doing enough to police the parade, and have said they will not marshal their supporters during the annual ‘Whiterock’ march on Saturday.

Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness used the party’s annual republican commemoration at Bodenstown to criticise the Orange Order and said his party would not police loyalist parades indefinitely.

He accused it of doing nothing to contribute to a lasting peace.

Although he did not comment directly on the ‘Tour of the North’ controversy, Mr McGuinness said that republicans could not be expected to facilitate controversial parades through nationalist areas indefinitely.

The openly sectarian organisation described Mr McGuinness’s comments as “an attack on Protestantism”.

“They have totally failed to understand that parading is an integral part of the Protestant culture,” the order said in a statement.

“The Orange Order is working very hard to make its parades more family friendly and welcoming, particularly to tourists and these remarks from the deputy first minister are extremely unhelpful.”

Speaking to republicans in Co Kildare for the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration Mr McGuinness said: “In the course of the past 15 years there have been many important contributions to the peace process.

“The IRA made significant contributions. So too the loyalists.

“So have many political parties and governments.

“However, the Orange Order, the cement which for decades held the unionist regime together, has refused to make a contribution.

“That has to end. The leadership of the Orange Order can no longer abdicate its responsibilities.

“Now is the time for the Orange Order to step forward.

“The days of republicans stretching ourselves and our communities to maintain calm in the face of sectarian provocation cannot last forever.

“It is now time for the issue of contested parades to be dealt with once and for all.

“It means a declaration from the Orange Order that in future they will no longer seek to force parades through Catholic areas and risk bringing violence onto our streets,” he said.

Mr McGuinness’s comments have been seen as significant ahead of the annual Twelfth parades across the North.

On Monday, in a pre-emptive strike, loyalists said they would be withdrawing their stewards from the Whiterock march this weekend. They blamed Sinn Féin and the PSNI for not doing enough to tackle republican protestors and what they described as “sectarian” stone-throwing incidents.

The annual march by the exclusively Protestant Orange Order passes along a section of the nationalist Springfield Road in west Belfast. It has also been the scene of serious violence in the past.

Since 2005 the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on contentious parades, has allowed some Orangemen to pass through the interface at Workman Avenue, with remaining marchers directed through a disused industrial site.

Springfield residents spokesman Sean Murray said the Whiterock prade would be facilitated by nationalist stewards at the interface.

“As it is we will be protesting in a dignified manner as we do every year.”

* Massgoers outside the Church of Our Lady in the Harryville area of Ballymena were harassed for the first time in a number of years by loyalists this week.

Massgoers at the church were routinely subjected to a gauntlet of loyalist abuse, intimidation and assault every week in the late ‘90s as part of tensions over sectarian parades.

Outside a Saturday evening Mass this week, a loyalist band “made insulting comments and played in a provocative manner” outside the church.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News