There have been calls for sectarian parades to be banned from Derry after an inflammatory display by a loyalist flute band led to three nights of serious disorder this week.
The incident took place during the ‘Relief of Derry’ parade by the loyalist Apprentice Boys organisation, the biggest parade of the Protestant marching season.
In the overwhelmingly nationalist city, in which the Bloody Sunday massacre by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment remains an open wound, one band from County Antrim wore the insignia of the Paras on their band uniforms.
Members of the Apprentice Boys and their supporters cheered and clapped the Clyde Valley Flute Band across the Craigavon Bridge into the heart of republican Derry. The PSNI police were seen to escort the band along the route.
The long frustrated judicial process into the Bloody Sunday massacre -- which has seen cover-ups, a bogus tribunal, and a mealy-mouted Tory apology -- has recently reached the point that a single low-ranking British soldier, ‘Soldier F’, set to face trial.
Dozens of parachute flags and banners in support of ‘Soldier F’ have been flown in unionist area in recent weeks. It was in honour of this soldier that his regiment’s insignia was paraded through Derry last weekend, just yards from where he took part in the 1972 killing spree.
A small nationalist protest during the parade went ahead, and the parade itself ended without incident. Tensions rose, however, as news of the provocation emerged. Two petrol bombs were thrown in the vicinity of the headquarters of the Apprentice Boys, while PSNI patrols also came under attack from youths throwing missiles including bricks and bottles.
Up to 40 nationalists were involved in the disorder, which continued for three nights, with a small barricade being erected and burned at Fahan Street.
Most of the trouble happened in the streets in the vicinity of the city walls, where dozens of loyalists also gathered alongside PSNI vehicles.
An agreement which has seen parades by the Apprentice Boys take place without incident in recent years is now under threat. Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion said the insignia displayed by the band had caused “deep anger in the city”.
“Ahead of Saturday’s parade, assurances were given that there would be no Parachute Regiment or Soldier F imagery involved but this agreement was broken,” she said.
“Subsequent Apprentice Boys denials of such an agreement do not stand up to scrutiny, and are in direct contravention of the accounts from the PSNI and the Bogside Residents Group.”
Sinn Féin said it would be raising the incident with the Parades Commission and the PSNI.
“The PSNI and the organisers must explain why, after giving an assurance that no provocative symbols would not be tolerated, this band were allowed to march on the parade,” said councillor Chris Jackson. “This is a deliberate attempt to stir up tension and to hurt the families of the Bloody Sunday victims.”
The Bloody Sunday Trust has said it will seek a meeting with the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
The chair of the Trust, Tony Doherty, said the “disgraceful display of pro-Parachute Regiment regalia” had caused unnecessary tensions and had a negative impact on community relations.
Relatives of the victims of Bloody Sunday said the band’s display caused great hurt.
“People are very angry about what happened,” said John Kelly, whose brother, Michael, was killed on Bloody Sunday.
“The way we look at it, and I’m talking about the families, and the people of Derry, we found it very, very provocative.”
The Apprentice Boys organisation only admitted that the band’s behaviour “may have caused upset”. The DUP leader Arlene Foster also saw no need for conciliation, simply noting that the band’s Para insignias were not illegal and “did not tangibly threaten a breach of the peace”.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell and his party colleagues only added to tensions when they posed for a photograph in the loyalist Fountain estate under a banner which featured the Parachute Regiment’s logo.
Danny Morrison of the Irish Republican Socialist Party said there had been “a new low” for the city. He described the loyalist display as “blatant sectarian triumphalism” and “the ultimate insult to the people in the city.”
“The organisers [of the parade] which the people of the North West accommodate each year, have a responsibility to come forward and explain why this was allowed to happen,” he said.
“Continuing to raise sectarian tensions is not in the interests of the people of Derry yet political unionism and loyalism seem intent on continuing down this path, driving a deeper wedge between community relations.”