24 June 2005

Daily Ireland

Contentious parade to pass Short Strand

by Ciarán Barnes

The Parades Commission yesterday gave the Orange Order the green light to stage a massive march past a nationalist area in Belfast on July 1, despite the parade being classed as “illegal".
Next week, 3,000 Orangemen, accompanied by thousands of loyalist supporters and more than 35 bands, will parade down the Albertbridge Road past the Short Strand.
The march, billed as the annual Battle of the Somme commemoration parade, has previously been the scene for a number of paramilitary displays.
Last year, bands carrying Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association banners and flags took part.
Short Strand residents have reacted with shock to the Parades Commission ruling, claiming the group has given into loyalist threats.
Last week DUP and Ulster Unionist politicians warned the PSNI could find itself in a Drumcree-style stand-off if officers prevented Orangemen from taking part in marches in east Belfast.
A spokesman for the Short Strand residents group said: “The decision by the Parades Commission to allow this march on the Albertbridge Road can only be viewed as an award for those who failed to abide by previous determinations.”
The Somme parade has been classed as illegal because Orangemen purposely did not fill in the parading application form properly.
This is done, apparently, to prevent the PSNI from questioning individual members about illegal incidents at parades.
Previously, the Orangemen would put the names of district masters and secretaries on parading application forms.
So far this year there have been three illegal Orange Order parades in east Belfast. The PSNI has yet to prevent any taking place, although during the last 12 months they have questioned a number of senior Orangemen.
Both Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party met with the Parades Commission yesterday to discuss upcoming loyalist marches.
Speaking to Daily Ireland after the meeting, former Ulster Unionist Belfast mayor, Jim Rodgers, welcomed the Somme march ruling.
He also denied seeing paramilitary displays at last year's Somme parade and insisted he did not have a problem marching next to banners of the old UVF which fought during the First World War.
He said: “The Parades Commission should be congratulated for placing no restrictions on the July 1 Somme parade. It is a victory for common sense."
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane has criticised the Parades Commission after it granted permission for a a loyalist band parade in Ballynahinch.
Ms Ruane accused the Commission of treating local nationalists with "’tter contempt".
Despite hearing detailed complaints from Ms Ruane and other representatives last week, the Commission refused to place any restrictions on the march.
Tonight's march, which is expected to involve dozens of bands, is organised by the Ballynahinch Protestant Boys.
Last year, local nationalists claimed the march was marked by the widespread display of loyalist paramilitary emblems and sectarian abuse.

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