23 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Illegal Orange Order march to go ahead

Almost 300 Orangemen are planning to take part in an illegal march past one of Belfast’s most notorious interfaces.
Loyalists from around the city will gather at the Albertbridge Road Orange Hall in east Belfast tomorrow, before marching around the nationalist Short Strand enclave. The area has been the scene of intense sectarian rioting in recent years, particularly in 2002, when a number of people were shot and homes were bombed.
Tomorrow’s parade, billed as a service for widows of Orangemen, has been deemed ‘illegal’ by the Parades Commission because organisers did not fill in their marching application forms properly.
Instead of naming the members who are co-ordinating the march, the Orange Order chose to only name the lodge taking part.
This policy was adopted by Orangemen in east Belfast last year following the PSNI questioning of senior Orange Order members Harry Whiteside, Raymond Spiers and Raymond McMichael after an alleged breach of marching guidelines.
According to east Belfast Orangeman and former Belfast mayor Jim Rodgers, if no names appear on a parade application form no one can be questioned. The Ulster Unionist politician said: “This is a policy I support and it was brought into being following the questioning of senior Orangemen last year.
“The Parades Commission needs to understand that individual Orangemen are not responsible for organising parades, it is the entire lodge’s responsibility. The Parades Commission can describe Sunday’s parade as illegal if they want, but it will still go ahead.”
Short Strand residents have sought legal advice in a bid to halt the march.
Local Sinn Féin councillor and Deputy Mayor of Belfast, Joe O’Donnell, said it would be the second illegal parade to pass by the area in recent months. “If this march is allowed to go ahead it will show how willing the PSNI is to facilitate illegal parades in east Belfast," said Mr O'Donnell. “If this was nationalists marching illegally past a unionist area, I am certain there would be serious security and legal repercussions."
A spokesperson for the PSNI said that in the absence of a Parades Commission ruling, policing decisions taken in relation with any parade will be proportionate and appropriate. He added: “Police use all methods available to them to closely monitor parades and will have no hesitation in reporting breaches of the law to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

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