Fascists on the march in Belfast

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A rally by far-right unionists and neo-Nazis at Belfast City hall last weekend has raised concerns over the increased visibility of fringe loyalist groups ahead of the sectarian marching season.

The march was in support of Tommy Robinson, the founder of the far-right English Defence League, who was jailed last week in England for contempt of court.

Notorious unionist councillor Jolene Bunting organised the protest at which loyalists made Nazi salutes outside Belfast City Hall. Black and yellow flags of the extreme racist group Generation Identity were displayed at the rally, and there were a series of inflammatory speeches by Bunting and other prominent figures of Britain’s far-right.

SDLP representative Donal Lyons, who has previously filed complaints regarding Bunting’s behaviour, said it is not hard to understand the message the extreme unionist was trying to send.

“Bringing a group of men, many of whom came over from England especially, to mill around outside Belfast City Hall throwing Nazi salutes, waving white supremacist flags and shouting about their racism, is as clear a signal as you could find,” he said.

Councillor Lyons said the demonstration should not be dismised as a “few isolated individuals with anger issues” but warned if left unchecked, “they will in time pose a threat”.

Loyalists have also provocatively erected an ‘Orange Arch’ in north Belfast. It took place with the active support of the PSNI police, who blocked the road while the arch was being raised.

Activists from the Belfast branch of republican political party Saoradh condemn the structure and the PSNI’s involvement. Posting on Facebook, a party spokesperson said: “Having been contacted by local residents, Saoradh Beal Feirste condemn the annual display of sectarian bigotry via an illegal Orange arch in the centre of Glengormley being built this evening.”

Pointing to the changed demographics of Glengormley which show the immediate area is mainly nationalist, the spokesperson said the display should be removed immediately “as it simply exists in order to try and intimidate the majority community in the local area”.

Meanwhile, an application by a newly constituted branch of the anti-Catholic Orange Order to march through a largely nationalist area of north Belfast has drawn criticism from Sinn Fein. Led by Gerry Kelly, a Sinn Fein delegation met the Parades Commission to protest. He said there had already been a significant number of objections from residents.

Saoradh’s Dee Fennell and long-time campaigner against sectarian parades in north Belfast was scathing of Kelly’s intervention. “Sinn Fein opposes Orange marches in their new leafy suburb heartlands, but facilitates them in Ardoyne,” he tweeted.

But Mr Kelly said there had never been a parade by in the area previously. “We have received several calls and emails from residents worried and angered by this development. It is a mixed area and clearly this application would create tensions if approved,” he said.

“I urge those involved not to go ahead with their planned march out of respect for community relations. The last thing north Belfast needs is another contentious parade.”

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