There was a major security operation in Belfast city centre on Saturday as well over a thousand republicans took part in a march and rally against internment, while a small number of loyalists held a counter-protest.
The event, organised by the Anti-Internment League (AIL), took place to Belfast City Hall for the first time, returning via Castle Street. Four republican bands also took part.
Internment of republican activists was introduced at the height of the conflict in 1971, and continues to this day in a variety of rebranded manners. As well as placards against the use of internment by remand and juryless courts, banners also drew attention to the particular cases of the Craigavon Two and the internment of Derry republican Tony Taylor.
Some 30 loyalists shouted sectarian jibes at the marchers and waved banners in support of British Army killings, but there was no disorder. In previous years, rioting erupted after the march was blocked from reaching the city centre.
Anti-Internment League spokesman Dee Fennell said that republicans were using their right to parade and protest in Belfast as the city is a “shared space that if open to some should be open to all”.
“Internment has always existed from internment without trial, followed by the supergrass trials and internment by remand in the ‘80s,” said Mr Fennell.
“In recent years Kevin Murphy was on remand for five years and other people were held for two years before being released on draconian bail conditions. We have people interned through miscarriages of justice, like The Craigavon Two and then also revocation of early licence like Tony Taylor. “
Mr Fennell said the parade was also taking place to highlight concerns with Dublin’s Special Criminal Court system, “including seeing republicans being interned through gardai belief evidence”.
Saoradh and Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association spokeswoman Mandy Duffy addressed the crowd outside City Hall.
Ms Duffy said republicans continue to “suffer from the effects of torture” and was critical of the prison systems across the island. She said arrests and spurious charges means republicans are being imprisoned at “an alarming rate”.
VIGIL GOES IT ALONE
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein was forced to deny it has begun a separate campaign for the release of internee Tony Taylor after it failed to invite members of the existing campaign to a vigil on Thursday.
Mr Taylor’s wife, Lorraine, said she also was not invited.
The Derry man has spent more than two years in prison after he was jailed with trial by British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers in March 2016. Mr Taylor had been released under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement but his ‘release licence’ was declared to be revoked.
Mrs Taylor said Sinn Fein failed to invite any members her family or any representative of the official Release Tony Taylor campaign despite being represented on the group.
In a Facebook post, she said: “Not shocked at all, propaganda at its best. So annoyed, cause it is only my husband there.”
However, a spokesman for Sinn Fein said the vigil was organised by Derry’s Feile community festival.
He said: “Sinn Fein have consistently attended events which support the call for Tony Taylor’s release and this vigil was no different.”