Loyalists marched through a mixed community in south Belfast on Friday night in a show of strength in tribute to notorious UDA paramilitaries linked to a string of sectarian atrocities.
The parade through residential streets off Ormeau Road was held for the 23rd anniversary of the death of Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder. The pair were involved in a massacre at Sean Graham bookmakers along the same street in 1992 in which five Catholics were killed.
The march had been restricted by the Parades Commission from several streets including Ormeau Road. However, loyalist paramilitary flags were flown from lampposts on Blackwood Street where the parade started - flouting parade rules against paramilitary trappings.
Before the march began, two photographers standing on the street were pushed and threatened by men who told them to leave the area and not to take pictures.
The police, who were stationed at several points along the parade route, made no attempt to intervene.
About ten bands took part in the march, which set off shortly after 7.15pm and finished on Haywood Drive at a controversial memorial garden funded by the Housing Executive.
The parade was first held in 2014 after the housing body spent eleven thousand pounds building the monument. A plaque bearing Bratty and Elder’s names was subsequently fixed to the memorial. The Housing Executive has since rejected calls to remove the structure.
The organiser of the latest march admitted a tribute to Bratty and Elder was again taking place at the memorial.
SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna had branded the parade “offensive”, while Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown called it a “coat-trailing exercise”.
FASCISTS JOIN LOYALIST PROTEST
A far-right group meanwhile said it intends to join loyalists in a ‘counter-protest’ against a civil rights parade in Belfast city centre next weekend.
A loyalist “anti-terrorism march” is due to take place at the same time as the anti-internment parade is being organised by republicans and progressivists.
The organisers of the annual anti-internment parade, the Anti-Interment League, plan to march from north Belfast through the city centre on Sunday August 6 before making their way to a rally at Dunville Park in the west of the city. Up to 5,000 people are expected to take part.
A rival event is to be addressed by Britain First leader Paul Golding and his deputy Jayda Fransen, who promote themselves as “pro-British, anti-Islamic, anti-immigration”.
Golding was jailed for eight weeks last year after breaching a High Court ban on him entering any mosques in England and Wales.
One of the group’s founders was Jim Dowson, a Scottish loyalist who lives in the North and at one time was close to Golding. Dowson and Golding were also linked to the Protestant Coalition, which emerged from the loyalist flag protests.
Anti-Internment League spokesman Dee Fennell met with the Parades Commission, which has the power to adjudicate on contentious parades and is still considering both events.
He said that parade organisers have voluntarily agreed to start earlier and have reduced the number of bands taking part to five.
He expressed concern at the possibility of a “perverse situation where republicans marching on a human rights issue will be banned” while far-right leaders are “seemingly able to travel to Belfast from Britain and have a free rein”.