A new umbrella group has been set up to represent nationalist residents’ groups. The ‘Communities Against Sectarian Parades’ (CASP) group was set up last week to oppose coat-trailing loyalist marches in north, west and east Belfast, as well as in Derry, Rasharkin and Newtownbutler.
It is set to take a stronger line on residents’ rights than those groups aligned to Sinn Féin. The group’s chairman, Sean Hanna, said it may “mobilise and disrupt” sectarian parades, including those in Derry, where the Apprentice Boys currently organises its largest parades with some support from local business interests and Sinn Féin.
CASP was formed just hours in advance of the controversial ‘Tour of the North’ parade in north Belfast last Friday. That parade saw multiple violations of the parades commission’s restrictions as it passed Carrick Hill, a favourite site for loyalist abuses.
Loyalists also attacked nationalist homes in the nearby Peter’s Hill area after being allowed to swarm through through a car park following the parade. Later, Sinn Féin policing board member Gerry Kelly was carried on the hood of a PSNI landrover, gripping onto a metal grill, as he struggled and failed to stop a PSNI convoy of Landrovers following the arrest of a local nationalist teenager. Sinn Féin Minister Caral ni Chuilin also suffered an injury in her attempts to assist her colleague.
The party’s supporters said the driver of the Land Rover, who drove directly into Mr Kelly despite him asking the driver to stop, should have been charged with assault, although unionists claimed the former Sinn Féin policing spokesperson should have been arrested for obstructing police.
DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig described the two Sinn Féin assembly members’ behaviour as “completely unacceptable”.
Mr Kelly said he had been told he could talk to the arrested officers, before the PSNI convoy drove off.
“I was told lies. I don’t like that,” he said. “I then stood in front of the fourth jeep and demanded to see whoever was in charge. At that stage he rolled the jeep into me.
“I held on to the grill to get my balance because I near fell over. When I held on to the grill he drove off.
“It felt like a lot longer but I suppose he drove maybe 20 yards down the road,” Mr Kelly added.
In the minutes afterwards, Mr Kelly said his party colleague, Ms Ní Chuilín, was injured as she came to his aid.
The Sinn Féin representatives say they remain angry at what happened.
Ms Ní Chuilín said: “I got injured when the jeep was driving off and we are very, very lucky there aren’t more serious injuries if not worse in this community.... I was hit by the jeep.
“There was a bit of recklessness here last night by some of the police in those jeeps. That’s not conduct befitting of PSNI and we will certainly be challenging it.”
Ultimately, the teenager was interrogated at Grosvenor Road PSNI barracks before being released, pending a report from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Meanwhile, an increased number of ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires are currently under construction across the North, and a record number of loyalist flags have been raised as the marching season continues to intensify ahead of its climax on July 12th.
‘The Twelfth’ marks the 323rd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, an historic battle victory by Protestant forces over Irish Catholics which continues to be celebrated by unionist traditionalists in the North of Ireland.
The largest bonfire has been built in the Ballyduff estate in Newtownabbey, on the northern outskirts of Belfast, where loyalists have amassed a pile which already towers over the homes of nearby residents.
In a radio debate, DUP assembly member Paul Girvan inflamed tensions when he said he had “no problem” with the Irish tricolour being burnt on the bonfire. The unionist hardliner said that burning an Irish flag on top of a bonfire was “part of the culture”.
“I’ve no problem about burning of a tricolour on top of a bonfire - let’s be honest,” he said. “This is the flag of a foreign country as far as I’m concerned.” However, he later said he had been “caught on the hop” in the interview.
More immediately, a controversial loyalist parade with more than 20 bands and 1,000 participants to be held in the mixed village of Stoneyford, County Antrim this Saturday, 29th June. There has been a noticeable increase in tension in the area since the release from prison of prominent local loyalist and convicted sex offender Mark Harbinson.
The Parades Commission granted permission for the ‘Pride of the Village Flute Band’ to hold the march, even though it will coincide with a cross-community village fete planned by people in the area for more than a year.