Police will make sure that the Orange Order’s Twelfth evening parade in north Belfast will not be allowed past the Woodvale Road, the new chief constable has said.
George Hamilton said that his officers would enforce the controversial Parades Commission ruling in its entirety and anyone who chooses to disobey the ruling or otherwise break the law will be prosecuted.
In an interview with the News Letter yesterday, Mr Hamilton said that the pan-unionist appeal for no violence was “a healthy one” and it was now crucial to “get that drilled down to community level”.
As well as political leadership, he urged parents to take responsibility for their children, highlighting that since the start of the flag protests the PSNI have charged or reported for prosecution 698 people, most of whom are young people and 93 per cent of whom have been convicted.
“Parents, youth leaders, faith groups, community representatives all have a role to play because there’s no point in senior political figures talking in aspirational terms if it doesn’t get traction at a community level.”
He said that the flag protests had strained relationships between the PSNI and loyalism but it was important to “keep dialogue going before, during and after public order events”.
Mr Hamilton said he firmly believed that violence “is not inevitable” but said that if there is trouble it is important for phone contact between the PSNI and loyalist leaders to continue even when rioting becomes intense.
When Mr Hamilton was asked whether during a riot his officers should be trying to talk with those on the other side of the line even if they may be orchestrating the trouble, he said: “We should try to communicate and keep engagement going during and after the event.
“But we also need to recognise that around this determination we are going to be enforcing that; the parade’s not going up the road ... we’re not going to negotiate about whether or not we are going to fulfil our lawful duty. So, like all negotiations, they have their parameters and the main part of the negotiation has to happen before so that people understand exactly the consequences of their actions.
“If they breach the determination, if they involve themselves in disorder we will arrest them if it’s appropriate to do so and we will certainly collect evidence and come and knock their door at some point ... and charge them.”
Mr Hamilton said that his approach would not be “soft” but would be “pragmatic”.
When asked about the presence of loyalist paramilitary representatives in the pan-unionist coalition, Mr Hamilton said that was a political decision and he would not comment on it, but went on to say that it was “good to have dialogue ... as broadly and as deeply as possible, rather than having a political class in their ivory tower speaking in purely aspirational terms”.
He added: “I think it makes sense for political leaders to be reaching as far as possible in who they engage with.”