Three boys have been stabbed at one of the more controversial parades of the Orange Order’s marching season.
Although a major policing operation hemmed in nationalists away from the parade, three children who turned up to observe the event on Monday evening were knifed by a loyalist. The boys were all aged between 14 and 15. One received a stab wound to the head and was treated at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
“It’s only really started to hit me as to how lucky the boys have been,” their east Belfast mother said. “If any of those injuries were any deeper or an inch away, we could’ve been planning a funeral or sitting up in an intensive care unit.”
DUP MP Gavin Robinson said the incident was “at complete odds with the ethos of a commemorative memorial event”.
Hundreds of sectarian, coat-trailing and triumphalist parades take place across the Six Counties at this time of the year. While most are now ignored, many still have the potential for major conflagration, particularly the annual Portadown event in north Armagh, which has been rerouted since 1998.
In its latest determination, the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on contentious parades, has again banned the Drumcree parade in Portadown from passing down the nationalist Garvaghy Road. Orange Order leaders are holding talks with the British government in another attempt to force the parade through the nationalist area.
Sinn Féin representative in East Belfast Mairéad O’Donnell criticised the PSNI for a number of failings in their policing operation on Monday.
Ms. O’Donnell said her party had worked hard to limit the impact of the barricade which is erected every year to protect the parade and prevent sectarian clashes. However, she said that there had been “numerous, prolonged stops” to the parade itself near St Matthew’s Catholic church.
The PSNI issued photographs of its new chief Simon Byrne observing the parade and appearing to direct operations. Referring to the bizarre promotional work by the PSNI press office, Ms O’Donnell said the focus “should not have been on photo-ops but instead ensuring the most professional and safest policing operation possible.”
The largest events of the loyalist marching season take place next weekend, on July 12th, to mark the anniversary of a 17th century Protestant battle victory over Catholics. These follow the ‘Eleventh Night’ of loyalist bonfires which are infamous for their sectarian displays and provocations.
There was a foretaste of what is to come next weekend after a DUP deputy mayor appeared in a photograph as the Irish national flag burned on a loyalist bonfire in the background.
Councillor Margaret Tinsley of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council was attending a bonfire in Edenderry in Portadown with her husband, Alderman James Tinsley from Lisburn and Castlereagh Council.
Sinn Féin councillor for Lurgan Keith Haughian condemned the photo.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that the Deputy Mayor and another DUP councillor posed for photos in front of a bonfire in Edenderry in which the Irish national flag was clearly being burned,” he said.
“The Deputy Mayor is supposed to represent everyone in the borough, but glorifying this type of activity is deeply offensive to large sections of our society.
“Burning of flags, posters and effigies on bonfires is wrong and have been rightly described by the PSNI as hate crimes.”
It is not the first time DUP representatives have faced criticism over pictures while attending bonfire events in the run-up to the Twelfth.
In 2016, DUP MLA Edwin Poots took a selfie beside a blazing bonfire in Lisburn that had earlier been bedecked in tricolours. The former health minister said at the time he “really couldn’t care less” about criticism over his attendance.