Anger as loyalist march is banned

Revamped parades commission stops controversial Easter procession in Belfast as relatives of Bloody Sunday victims welcome investigation
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The Independent Online
A PROPOSED loyalist march along Belfast's lower Ormeau Road on Easter Monday has been banned by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, in its first adjudication on a controversial parade.

Earlier this year, a new law gave the commission powers to adjudicate on parades during Northern Ireland's often troublesome marching season. Its first judgment was yesterday criticised by the loyalist organisation involved, the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

The authorities hope the Commission's rulings will avoid some of the clashes which often attend the marching season, in which around 3,000 loyalist marches take place. Most are routine and pass off peacefully, but a handful can give rise to serious confrontations.

The Apprentice Boys have traditionally marched along the lower Ormeau Road in south Belfast, but over the years the area has become predominantly Catholic and in recent times opposition has mounted to their parading.

The Commission chairman, Alistair Graham, praised the Apprentice Boys for initiatives they had taken, but said that in the final analysis, the Commission had been most concerned at the impact a parade would have on relationships within the community.

The Commission said it believed the ground should be prepared for one or more parades to take place along the route during the summer, but said local people and the loyalist marching organisations needed to do more to create "the necessary atmosphere of sensitivity and tolerance that would permit this".

Welcoming the decision, a spokesman for lower Ormeau residents said they were "absolutely relieved".

Loyalist critics of the decision, however, claimed it amounted to capitulation to violence. The Governor of the Apprentice Boys, Alistair Simpson, said he was disgusted, adding: "Mr Graham has been bending maybe to those who are hell-bent on bringing destruction to Northern Ireland. They are sidestepping the whole issue. What do we have to do to enable us to walk our traditional routes?"

Jeffrey Donaldson MP, who is both a leading member of the Orange Order and a senior member of the Ulster Unionist Party's talks team, added: "I am disappointed that the Parades Commission have decided once again to give way to people who have threatened violence against this parade."

Later this month, the Commission is scheduled to announce its preliminary views on other parades in places such as Drumcree, Dunloy and Bellaghy. Each decision is likely to produce spirited criticism from one side or the other.

Decisions are open to High Court challenges, while in each case the Royal Ulster Constabulary Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, can appeal to Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, asking her to overturn adjudications on public order grounds.

The key decision will concern the Drumcree march in early July, which is now thought of as "Drumcree 4" because serious confrontations have taken place there in each of the past three years. In each case, the march has eventually been shepherded through with the assistance of large numbers of police.

One widely-held theory is that the Commission will allow the Drumcree march to go ahead, but will seek to balance that decision by banning some of the earlier parades. Sources close to the Commission deny this, saying each march is to be considered under its own particular circumstances.

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