No right to protest for nationalists

A residents’ group whose members were convicted this week for protesting against a sectarian parade said the case highlighted the one-sided nature of the justice system in the North of Ireland.

Before Christmas, 26 people were convicted in connection with a sit-down blockade on Belfast’s Crumlin Road in protest at a parade by the anti-Catholic Orange Order in July 2010.

The march was brutally forced through a predominately Catholic and nationalist area of north Belfast by the PSNI police. Heavy violence erupted in the area for days afterwards.

Two other people have already been convicted in relation to the protest, bringing to 28 the total number of people to have been prosecuted in relation to the sit-down blockade, which had been organised by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).

The judge said that he accepted that those involved in the protest had not engaged in violence, but claimed it could have “lit the fuse” for the later disturbances.

Remarkably, he placed no blame for the trouble on the the Parades Commission, which approved the parade route, or the PSNI, who brutally attacked peaceful protestors, or the Orange Order itself.

Spokesman for the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective, Dee Fennell, said that the charges brought against protesters highlighted the one-sided nature of policing. He pointed to illegal protests and blockades organised by loyalists which had resulted in no charges.

The most recent protest organised by loyalists took place at Belfast City Hall earlier this month in opposition to a decision by the city’s Sinn Fein mayor not to present a teenage army cadet with an award. Around 200 loyalists gathered at the city hall to intimidate councillors before attacking their cars as they left the monthly meeting. The protest blocked the street for hours. To date no charges have been brought in relation to the loyalist protest.

A number of other loyalist blockades have seen to PSNI action taken. A major loyalist riot in the town of Ballyclare this summer produced only an apology from the PSNI for having ‘provoked’ it.

Mr Fennell said: “Our community is facing a criminalisation policy while loyalists who have staged illegal road blocks and protests -- most recently against the mayor when staff and councillors had death threats issued against them -- have yet to see one arrest or charges brought.

“In addition to this our local elected representatives, who often speak of the importance of equality, have been uncharacteristically silent in regards to our case,” the GARC spokesman said.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News