Republican march ends peacefully after days of ‘shameful’ violence

The Northern Ireland Secretary said the violence was ‘a hugely regrettable step backwards’

A controversial republican parade in honour of members of the IRA passed off peacefully today in a Co Tyrone village where the organisation was responsible for dozens of deaths.

A Protestant counter-demonstration was kept separate from the republican marchers by a strong force of police, so that protests were confined to shouts and the waving of banners.

The absence of violence came as a relief to the authorities since tensions had been high in the wake of Friday’s fierce disturbances in central Belfast, when more than 50 police officers were injured by loyalist rioters.

There was also no trouble in  the city of Londonderry where a large parade on Saturday by the Protestant Apprentice Boys, which included more than 100 bands, passed off peacefully – as it has done for several years.

The Castlederg march was condemned as particularly insensitive in that many members of the security forces were killed in the district. Sinn Fein, which organised the event, responded to local complaints by re-routing the march, but rejected calls to cancel it.

It was described as a commemoration of members of the IRA who were killed during the conflict. Among these were two local men, Seamus Harvey and Gerard McGlynn, who died in 1973 when a bomb they were transporting towards Castlederg exploded prematurely.

The parade took place on the 40th anniversary of their deaths and their names were among those on a list read out at a republican memorial in the town.

The parade, which was attended by senior Sinn Fein representatives including Northern Ireland government minister Gerry Kelly and Westminster MP Francie Molloy, featured a banner depicting rifles. Some marchers wore combat jackets, berets and dark glasses.

The Protestant protesters included relatives of a number of IRA victims, some of them holding up photographs of those who had been killed.

Meanwhile, in Belfast six people  arrested in clashes between loyalists and police in the city during Friday’s rioting have been charged with offences including riotous behaviour, disorderly behaviour and resisting police. Many more charges are expected to be brought after police sift through video footage of the disorder.

During the disturbances bricks,  bottles and other missiles including scaffolding, masonry and paving stones were thrown at police, who replied with plastic bullet rounds and water cannon.

Police said the rioters had been intent on “mindless anarchy and sheer thuggery”. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, described the violence as “shameful” and “a hugely regrettable step backwards”.

The absence of violence in Derry was not regarded as a surprise, since the city is held up as a model of how dialogue involving republicans and loyalists can secure agreement on parades.

Jim Brownlee, the Apprentice Boys Governor, said: “I think over the  years we have learned to work well with, reach out to other communities, talk with them, explain exactly what we are about.”

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