Unionist paramilitaries and elements within the anti-Catholic Orange Order are behind the mass loyalist parade in Belfast city centre tomorrow [Saturday, November 30th], Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has said.
Up to 10,000 loyalists and 40 bands are set to join the city centre protest to mark the anniversary of Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the British Union Jack on designated days only.
Other protests are planned before Christmas, and there are fears the parade could mark a return of last winter’s traffic-snarling roadblocks and violent disturbances.
A group calling itself ‘Loyal Peaceful Protesters’ is planning to breach legally-binding restrictions set by a Parades Commission ruling by starting their demonstration half an hour after the parade is supposed to be completely clear of the city centre.
Asked by SDLP leader Alban Maginness whether he believed that tomorrow’s protest and subsequent parades should be called off, the deputy first minister said he was certain that loyalist paramilitaries were behind the controversial protest.
“I don’t have any doubt as to who is organising this parade -- this parade is organised by the UVF and is being supported by elements within the Orange Order,” Mr McGuinness said.
The Sinn Féin representative for Derry said everybody involved had a responsibility to “recognise the importance of discussion and dialogue”.
“Yes I think people have made their point but the main point to be made is that they have a duty to face up to the concerns being expressed on a consistent basis by the business community in Belfast about how damaging these protests can be,” he said.
“I come from a society that believes people have the right to protest but in protesting people have to take decisions as to whether or not that protest is going to contribute to a resolution or an exacerbation of the problem.” He described the continued protests as “very worrying indeed”.
The Police Federation of Northern Ireland also urged the loyalists to “reconsider their position” in order to allow the PSNI to focus their efforts on defeating the republican armed groups.
Terry Spence, the federation’s chairman, said: “There has been a consolidation of these disparate dissident republican groups co-operating more with each other as well as the fact that there is a drift from mainstream republicanism to the dissident camp.”
He warned that policing the parade “will distract well over 1,000 police officers to deal with the potential fallout from the demonstration”.
“Police resources are already stretched, and Saturday will stretch them to the limit,” he added.