Loyalists say they will attempt to block a nationalist civil rights march through Belfast on Sunday. The UDA’s political wing, the UPRG, has threatened to “stop republican scum from marching on the streets of Belfast”.
Thousands are expected to take part in the protest against internment, organised by the Anti-Internment League (AIL).
In 2013, a loyalist mob went on the rampage on Royal Avenue during a similar demonstration, and the PSNI forced the march away from the city centre as a result.
Fears of similar trouble are growing after the UPRG’s north Antrim branch made an internet appeal to flood the city centre in a bid to stop the parade.
The AIL parade, billed as a national march against internment by remand, has been organised to highlight the ongoing detention of nationalist and republican activists without trial.
The organisation is made up of anti-agreement republicans, human rights advocates, community workers and trade union members. Sunday’s parade will coincide with the 44th anniversary of the introduction of internment in August 1971.
The march is to start at Ardoyne Avenue in north Belfast before travelling to Belfast city centre where it will move along Royal Avenue and on to Dunville Park in west Belfast for a rally.
Organisers had wanted to set off from Ardoyne in north Belfast at 2.30pm but the Parades Commission has said the parade must be concluded by 1.30pm, setting up a dispute which remains unresolved.
Sinn Fein has called for the commission’s determination to be respected. But in a statement, the AIL said they would not allow their peaceful protest to be suppressed.
“The attempt by a British Secretary of State-appointed quango to attempt to restrict our message of opposition, by placing unrealistic time constraints and limiting public exposure to our message, is futile and panders to those who wish to support continued injustices by Britain that are facilitated by the Stormont Executive,” the statement said.
“The days of ‘croppy lie down’ are over, let the State militia of the PSNI and British Army try to stop us.”
The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association said the Parades Commission had also tried to force a clash with another republican event, a parade to mark the Ballymurphy Massacre.
“This can only be viewed as a deliberate attempt to divide republican opposition to British sponsored atrocities and torture in Ireland both past and present,” they said.
“The IRPWA call on all our activists, supporters and the broad Republican family to reject these British tactics by ensuring that Britain’s continuing torture of Republican Prisoners is highlighted on 9th August.”
DUP North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland claimed the statement from the parade organisers was a “clear threat”. But Padraig McCotter, from republican group Eirigi, accused Mr McCausland of constructing a “smokescreen”, and pointed out that the parade was due to take place on a Sunday, when there are very few shoppers in the city centre.
“We’re calling on the general public to give the march their backing and to add their voice to the growing chorus of discontent at draconian imprisonment methods,” he said.
Republican prisoners at Maghaberry also issued a statement to welcome the efforts of all those responsible “for elevating our struggle on to the main stage of political debate”.
“For those who are yet undecided on attending we appeal to you to join our struggle,” according to the prisoners on the Roe 4 wing.
“There are few avenues open to Irish Republicans to make a public expression of our opposition to Internment, whether by remand or through revocation of licence, forced strip searches, controlled movement and Isolation of Republican Political Prisoners.
“The British Government know this as well. This of course explains the increasing effort to hinder this manifestation of resistance. We implore the Irish Republican people to recognise this and the intent behind it and conclude that they will not assist the process by staying at home. No one, not even a British government can thwart such a well organised and well attended demonstration of resistance.”
* Today [Saturday], 30,000 loyalists are to flood the city of Derry with 150 flute bands for the ‘Relief of Derry’ marches. In sharp contrast to Sunday’s event, however, there has been no nationalist opposition or controversy in Derry over the marches, which are held annually by the Apprentice Boys organisation.