A small and quiet wreath-laying by relatives of innocent civilians killed in the Ormeau Road bookmakers atrocity was attacked today by the PSNI, who arrested one of the survivors of the 1992 mass shooting.
There have been calls for PSNI Chief Simon Byrne to resign in the wake of the incident, the latest in a series of acts of violent harassment against law-abiding republican gatherings such as wakes and funerals.
Today’s action against those remembering a notorious atrocity provoked disbelief and anger among nationalists.
It stands in contrast with the PSNI’s acquiescence and facilitation of a ‘show of strength’ on Tuesday by a masked UVF terror mob, who were engaged in intimidation in east Belfast at the time.
In a ten-minute video taken by one of the relatives today, the PSNI jostled and barged those present to disrupt the commemoration as family members laid flowers. They assaulted one woman and jostled others before arresting Mark Sykes at the spot where he was shot seven times by a UDA death squad.
Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, said the “disgraceful” assault took place amid an ongoing battle by the PSNI to prevent the publication of the Police Ombudsman’s report into the atrocity and to protect the RUC (now PSNI) handlers and agents involved in the atrocity.
“The PSNI vindictively decided to disrupt, insult and create unprecedented and callous hurt,” he said.
“The very same institution – the PSNI – that has prevented and thwarted effective investigation into these killings decided to intervene in a safe and distanced commemoration. This is beyond outrageous and there must be immediate accountability.
“This was not a public or community event. There was only a handful of relatives and survivors who sought to leave flowers at the spot where their loved ones had been gunned down with state collusion.”
On Thursday, the PSNI were also filmed as they stopped the funeral cortege of Turf Lodge woman, 85-year-old woman Rita McKernan, as it made its way through West Belfast.
One PSNI man grabbed a mourner with both hands around the neck before pushing him a number of yards and forcing him against a PSNI vehicle.
Mrs McKernan’s son Patrick, said the harassment continued throughout their grief. He said the PSNI “never left the house” during the wake following her passing on Monday, and were also present as Mrs McKernan was buried.
“There were four or five cop cars in the cemetery as well,” he said. “It was just pure harassment.”
Sinn Féin’s Policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said has was “shocked and appalled” at the tactics used against the Ormeau families today. He called for the man arrested to be released immediately and the PSNI to apologise for “adding insult to injury” to those who have waited almost 30 years for truth and justice.
“It beggars belief that police have acted in such a heavy handed way with victims of loyalist violence in a week where the PSNI didn’t as much as take a name or stop a single member of an East Belfast UVF criminal gang of more than 50 men whose intent was to violently intimidate people out of their homes,” he said.
Lawyer Niall Murphy pointed out that because of Covid restrictions, the annual commemoration had been restricted to the five families who maintained a dignified silence and left flowers down.
“The police attended, for what reason I will never know, approached victims and survivors of an atrocity, and commenced to harass, push and assault man, woman and child.
He denied a PSNI claim that the arrested victim had engaged in disorderly behaviour.
“The only disorderly behaviour that happened on the Ormeau Road today was by the police who had no right to be there and who have wreaked havoc on community relations both in the Ormeau Road and in the wider community,” he said.
The IRSP said it shared the outrage of the people of the Lower Ormeau at the actions of the police.
“Recent living memory recalls that this same force literally besieged the Lower Ormeau and its people for decades, to facilitate both the murderous onslaught of state sponsored UFF and UVF terror gangs and the further endless spectacles of bigoted Orange order processions.
“In recent years the RUC/PSNI, directed as they are by MI5 (British military intelligence) have used coercion, lies and subterfuge in order to cover up their own central role in the UFF slaughter of the innocents in the Lower Ormeau.
“Today they turned their mind to the old intimidation tactics akin of the 1980s and 1990s, when people were beaten, arrested and forced from their own streets for stating the obvious and opposing bigotry.
“It has always been very clear to the IRSP that the PSNI embodies the physical structures and political program of the old RUC. Their first and foremost role is to exist as the front line of British occupation in Ireland and in this role they will quite simply never change and we make no apology in condemning those Nationalist politicians who attempted to sell this force to the very people they are sworn to oppress.
“The IRSP, once again call on all Nationalist and Republican minded parties and individuals to withdraw support from the PSNI and pledge our support for the long suffering people of the Lower Ormeau.”