Tensions remain high in the North following ‘the Twelfth’ marches by the Orange Order and sectarian bonfires earlier this month, and ahead of a confluence of nationalist, loyalist and far-right protests and counter-protests in Belfast on Sunday.
Amid a serious of sectarian incidents, the most serious took place in the scenic County Antrim village of Glenarm, where the unionist paramilitary UVF burned two vehicles in an overnight hate attack.
Masked gang members set a car alight outside a house in the Castleview area of Glenarm by smashing one of the vehicle’s windows and throwing a device inside. The fire then spread to a second car.
Sinn Fein’s Oliver McMullan, a former Assembly member for East Antrim, blamed it on the “UVF arson brigade” who he said were “trying to control communities through fear”. He said the arson followed opposition to loyalist flags being erected in the neighbourhood.
“I’m led to believe from members of the public that this could be over flags,” he said. “This is again quite clearly the work of the UVF trying to control communities through fear. This has got to stop.”
Loyalist paramilitary flags were also put up directly in front of Newtownards Courthouse in County Down over the weekend, emblazoned with ‘South East Antrim UFF’, a gang responsible for a number of hate attacks in recent years.
Meanwhile, a new flag paying tribute to the British Army’s murderous Ulster Defence Regiment is to be unveiled during a contentious rally involving leading far-right figures in Belfast on Sunday.
It is believed the provocative flag will be carried at a demonstration featuring speakers from fascist group Britain First outside Belfast City Hall.
An anti-fascist group is to hold a counter-protest, while a related loyalist march is also due to take place in the area a short time later.
The events were designed to coincide with an anti-internment march through the city centre. Controversially, the Parades Commission has banned the civil rights march from leaving north Belfast.
The republican organisers of an anti-internment parade had put forward plans to take an alternative route to avoid confrontation on Sunday, but without success. The Anti-Internment League sought to avoid the city centre as it makes its way to west Belfast, but were refused permission for both routes.
In 2013 there was serious trouble on Royal Avenue after loyalists seeking to block the parade clashed with riot police.
The Parades Commission has insisted that the parade should proceed only as far as North Queen Street in north Belfast and disperse there or return.
Lawyer for the AIL Michael Brentnall last night said the group had asked the Parades Commission to review their decision, but this was rejected.
“The Commission has taken an inequitable approach to the AIL application when considered for example that the commission approve an annual [loyalist] march which travels past the [republican] Short Strand, an entirely contentious route, and the operational actions of the PSNI are to shield the area off,” he said.
“This is obviously a factor in the decision making process of the commission of that parade, however the question must be asked why has that not been able to have been facilitated in this instance?”
The parade, which will go ahead in any event, will begin on Sunday from Ardoyne Avenue at 11am. The main speaker will be Lorraine Taylor, the wife of current internee and lifelong republican Tony. All those concerned with the issue of civil rights in the north of Ireland are urged to attend.