There has been a flood of complaints about the PSNI’s actions after it blocked a nationalist anti-internment protest from marching to Belfast city centre on Sunday.
A ring of steel was put up around the city from early morning as one of the largest ‘security’ operations seen in years swung into place ahead of the parade.
All routes leading into and out of Belfast were screened off as the city centre went into lock down as thousands gathered to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment.
The PSNI stopped the parade at the junction of Oldpark Road and Rosapenna Street on the basis that it had started too late to abide by a ruling of the Parades Commission.
March participants, including a number of bands, walked up to the line of PSNI vehicles and held a rally for around 30 minutes, with speeches, cheering and music. At the conclusion organisers urged people to disperse peacefully. The parade turned and went back up Oldpark Road and did so without incident.
But tensions in Rosapenna Street escalated as the PSNI maintained an aggressive presence in the area long after the march had dispersed. Petrol bombs and other missiles were thrown during a brief disturbance, and four people were subsequently arrested.
Local residents vented their anger at the PSNI’s behaviour at a community centre earlier this week. Lawyer Michael Brentnall said he had been “inundated” with complaints over the lockdown and has contacted the Police Ombudsman.
At the meeting organised by the Anti-Internment League, residents said they had received sectarian abuse from the PSNI and endured armed riot police “invading gardens, running through houses and damaging private property”.
Local business owners also complained that the PSNI forced them to close for no reason, and contrasted this with efforts by the Parades Commission and PSNI to placate city centre traders by preventing the march from proceeding at the previously arranged time.
The AIL and local community organisations are to jointly request a “surgery” style event, inviting the Police Ombudsman to compile complaints against the PSNI from local residents. Some local residents will also be taking Civil Cases against the PSNI, they said.
The Anti-Internment League added that the “violent actions” of the PSNI within the community would not go “unchallenged”.
But Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has condemned the violence and blamed it on the march organisers. He said those who organised the parade bear the “full responsibility” for the trouble.
British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers said it was “totally unacceptable” that the rally breached the Parades Commission determination.
“These determinations have the force of the law and should be upheld at all times. Violence will not be tolerated,” she said.
Republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail said anti-internment protests should continue as long as internment is still being effectively operated by the state authorities. A group aligned with the Republican Network for Unity said the internment of the early 1970s had been “refashioned to internment by remand”.
“The British judicial system in Ireland.. detains Irish Republicans for up to three years before manufactured and spurious charges collapse, or a Diplock Court is convened and so called secret state evidence is discussed behind closed doors enabling politically motivated sentencing and imprisonment,” they said.
“We urge our communities and all of those interested in the abuse of human rights, judicial malpractice and state sanctioned political detention to join with us in exposing the British governments method of internment by remand and the continuing abuse of Irish Republican political prisoners.”
The renewed campaign by prisoners was being blamed for a further unwelcome development at Maghaberry.
On Monday night, the prison riot squad swamped republican wings and carried out what was described as an “unprovoked attack” on two young prisoners, Nathan Hastings and Conal Corbett. The prisoners were dragged to a new cell in order to force a new level of separation on the wings of Roe House, where republican prisoners are housed.
The Anti-Internment League said it has planned several events for the coming months to further raise attention to the prisoners’ cause. Among the events will be a 24 hour prisoners’ solidarity camp on 28th August in West Belfast.
There was a call by the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association for a “mass mobilisation” with protests, pickets and other events throughout the country.
“Republican political prisoners are engaged in a jail struggle against the British Governments attempts to break them,” they said.
“Just as in the past, the prisons have become one of the battlefields chosen by them to try and defeat republican resistance. Republican prisoners are confident of their victory in the battle that lies ahead, we on the outside need to be equally as confident and need to shoulder some of the burden currently carried by the prisoners.”