25 May 2006

Contentious parade gets the green light


By Roisin McManus

Sinn Féin have hit out at the Parades Commission decision to give the green-light to a controversial loyalist band parade in West Belfast, claiming that it will heighten sectarian tension in the area.

Over 2,000 loyalists will descend on the Blacks Road on June 3 after an application by the Upper Falls Protestant Boys was given the go-ahead by the Parades Commission yesterday.

It is expected that up to 58 bands will take part in the huge loyalist parade which will last around three hours. Local Sinn Féin Councillor Gerard O’Neill said that the decision was “disappointing” but “not surprising”.

Sinn Féin had met with the Parades Commission on Wednesday to discuss the planned parade.

However, a representative of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG) says that he expects the parade to pass off peacefully.

The Suffolk parade has previously been shrouded in controversy. In 2004 the Ulster First Flute Band attended the parade in paramilitary style outfits and the day ended in a brawl between two rival loyalist bands.

Nationalists in adjoining areas were trapped in their homes for over four hours while around 30 bands paraded through the Suffolk Estate.

One band strapped a teddy bear wearing a balaclava and holding an automatic rifle to a large bass drum.

Councillor O’Neill said local people are angry with the Parades Commission decision.

“This is disappointing, the Parades Commission have not taken on board the views of the residents of lower Lenadoon,” said Councillor O’Neill.

“This parade will increase sectarian tensions and we are in the business of trying to dampen tensions. This decision will only serve to raise tension and there is the potential for trouble.

“We have explained that to the Parades Commission. They make these decisions and then they walk away and we are left on the ground to manage the situation,” he added.

Colin Halliday, South Belfast Representative of the UPRG, who has been working with the Protestant Interface Network on the issue of the Suffolk parade, said that he believes it will pass off peacefully.

“The band will make sure that the day is peaceful and there is no hassle,” said Mr Halliday.

“The band intend to do all they can to keep the day free from trouble.
“Gerard O’Neill’s comments about the parade raising tensions are total nonsense. If sectarian tensions are heightened, it will not be coming from the Suffolk Estate side,” he added.

Parades Commission Chairman Roger Poole said, “Today we met the organisers of the parade in Suffolk and in recent days we heard the concerns of residents in the area.

“The only reason the Commission was forced to intervene in this parade was that there was no local accommodation.

“We urge both sides, who have shown considerable leadership in their respective communities, to engage in a meaningful way to ensure that a long-term resolution to this particular dispute can be achieved,” he added.

Journalist:: Roisin McManus

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