A major loyalist march past the scene of serious disorder in Belfast last month could add to the number of police officers already injured this year, a senior policing figure has said.
Questioning the wisdom of bringing thousands of protesters and 20 bands on to the city’s streets later this month, Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said there was the potential for violence.
The event — due to take place on Saturday, September 21 — has been organised under the name ‘Loyal Peaceful Protesters’ but last night it was unclear who the group represents.
It is understood that it is not an Orange Order event and may involve some of those involved in the Union Flag protests.
Mr Spence, who represents rank and file officers, said that they had a “major concern” over the march.
According to the Parades Commission, it is proposed that the marchers will assemble at the City Hall before setting off at 2pm along Donegall Place towards Royal Avenue, North Street and onwards to Twaddell Avenue.
On August 8, dozens of police officers were injured as loyalists rioted, preventing a republican march from passing along Royal Avenue.
The disorder led Mr Spence to call for a six-month ban on all contentious parades, as the number of officers injured over the 12-month period passed 500.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Spence said: “It is clear to me that if you bring as many people as are envisaged or proposed out onto the street it becomes effectively a crowd control issue for the police and they will have to deal with any fallout of any contentious counter protests that take place.
“That could lead, potentially, to police officers being injured.” Mr Spence added: “That would be of major concern to me and to our rank and file, bearing in mind the violence we have witnessed on our streets over the last 14 months when 689 police officers have been injured – the last of those as recently as August 8 in Belfast city centre.
“If you look at the number of officers that are needed on a nightly basis to police Twaddell Avenue/Woodvale Road/Ardoyne interface area, a stretch of a couple of hundred metres at a cost of £55,000 a night, can you imagine how many police will be needed for the event on September 21?”
The Parades Commission was to consider the protest march on Tuesday but a decision has been deferred “to allow some questions and concerns to be addressed”.
Since three Ligoniel Orange lodges were prevented from walking home from the Belfast demonstration field along a stretch of the Crumlin Road on July 12, regular protest parades have been taking place close to the Ardoyne interface and a ‘protest camp’ has also been established.
Weekly protest meetings have also been held each Saturday afternoon and it is understood the marchers plan to converge with the Twaddell Avenue event next Saturday.