08 September 2005

Loyalists bring West Belfast to a standstill while cops look on


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A continuing Orange Order protest on the Springfield Road was described yesterday as “an absolute outrage” by a West Belfast Policing Partnership member.

Marie Kane, who is the only West Belfast resident who sits on the WBPP, said she was “hugely disappointed” by the failure of the PSNI to disperse the crowd which gathered at rush hour yesterday morning and evening.

Many Springfield Road residents were unable to travel to work yesterday morning because of the blockage, while many of their children were prevented from going to school at the normal time. Other residents of West Belfast also suffered as the protest had a knock-on effect throughout the North and West of the city. Marie described the situation as “absolute bedlam”.

“The situation is deplorable,” she added.

In an unusual twist, the Orange Order contacted local Protestant schools in West Belfast earlier in the week to warn them to avoid the chaos by closing early yesterday, today and tomorrow.

A member of staff at Springfield Primary confirmed that a note had been received and that the school would close early, but the principal was not available for comment.

Marie Kane went on: “This clear attack on Catholic children is disgusting. What have they done to the Orange Order? My 14-year-old daughter was unable to get to school this morning, but they contacted Protestant schools to ensure they weren’t affected. It’s a sad reflection on these people.”

It has also emerged that patients needing medical attention were also affected by the blockage.

In a statement to staff, the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust warned: “In the event of disruption in some parts of North and West Belfast staff have been asked to ensure as far as possible services are maintained, and staff report if they have any difficulties gaining access to areas. Staff are reminded that during civil disturbances they should ensure they do not put themselves at an unacceptable risk and are cautious when undertaking duties in non-daylight hours."

The PSNI told protesters that they were causing an illegal blockade and asked them to move, but they refused. The loyalist protests are in relation to restrictions on an Orange parade this weekend. The Orange Order postponed its Whiterock parade in June after being barred from Workman Avenue and told to go through the former Mackies factory site.

The parade has been re-scheduled for Saturday but has also been restricted. The protesters say daily blockades would continue until Orangemen get their preferred route.

Seán Paul O’Hare, spokesperson for the Springfield Road Residents’ Association, said the action of the Orange Order was a huge letdown. The residents group met with the North and West Parades Forum earlier this year in what residents thought was a constructive meeting. “There were further discussions planned for September,” explained Seán Paul.

“We’re disappointed that instead of people sitting around a table in dialogue, we now have another road blockage. It doesn’t bode well, and residents groups are appealing for calm.”

Seán Paul suggested that community leaders need to take responsibility and resolve the situation. “The people who live on the Springfield Road have a right to live in peace,” he said. “We would appeal to people to abide by the decision of the Parades Commission and would call for the North and West Parades Forum to re-enter into dialogue with Springfield Road residents.”

Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley accused the loyalist protesters of trying to heighten sectarian tensions.

“The chaos created this morning was designed to heighten tensions in the Springfield Road area,” he said. “The ongoing tension and stress this imposes upon the nationalist community on the Springfield Road and the stress it imposes on community relations is unacceptable and should be removed. It is an attempt to try and overturn the ruling of the Parades Commission.”

Reiterating Seán Paul’s appeal for dialogue, he added: “If the Orange Order want to march through areas where the local community does not want them then at the very least they have an obligation to enter into meaningful discussion. Threatening host communities and raising tensions in interface areas is not the way forward.”

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said, “The hypocrisy of those responsible for organising and taking part in this road block is breathtaking.

“The mentality seems to be that it is a crime to reroute an Orange parade even though the decision is in the best interests of the community but it is perfectly fine to expect the people travelling from across the North to seek an alternative route to work on a Wednesday morning. The protest is wrong and only further damages the cause that these people are purporting to represent.”

Journalist:: Laura McDaid

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