The County Grand Orange Lodge in Belfast has said this morning that the PSNI has ‘serious questions to answer’.
In a statement this morning issued by Grand Chaplain Mervyn Gibson, the Order in Belfast sought to clarify events concerning July 12, surrounding what it termed “the illogical decision by the Parades Commission”.
The Order said it was “consistent and unambiguous” in it’s appeals that violence had no place at the planned protests.
“The considerable anger expressed by the entire Protestant Unionist and Loyalist community, which the Secretary of State acknowledged was there; an anger that emanated from the fact the Commission rewarded violence and an anger that needed channelled into peaceful expression,” the statement said.
“Therefore following meetings with the local lodges, community, politicians and our partners in the Belfast Parades Forum it was decided to mount a protest at the location where the parade would be halted on the Woodvale Road and at other parts of the city. There was never any appeal for people to join those protests.”
Referring to events at the Woodvale Road, the statement continued: “In respect of the proposed protest at Woodvale Road, when the local lodges arrived there was already a large crowd assembled. There were stones thrown at the police and within a short space of time water cannons were deployed and plastic bullets fired without warning into the large crowd.
“Those who had come for a peaceful protest were soaked and injured, leading to anger amongst many of those gathered. Orangemen and Politicians tried to calm the situation down, and we pay tribute to Nigel Dodds, local politicians and other partners from the Belfast Parades forum,– not only for their work at this protest, but also at several other times throughout the day. It was agreed with the police that if the violence stopped, they would facilitate the protest, unfortunately this could not be achieved, because of the anger of the crowd at the robust police action from the outset.
“The protest was suspended at 12.55am on 13th July by the Brethren of the Ligoniel Lodges.”
Turning to events in East Belfast the Order in Belfast said: the violence was “not as a result of any protest action”.
The statement claimed: “A police land rover, believed to be gathering evidence for the Parades Commission, caused the parade to stop on several occasions as it progressed along the Newtownards Road.
“Attempts to contact senior police officers by several community representatives to have the matter resolved quickly, failed as PSNI phones were not answered.
“At this stage there was a premeditated and sustained attack on the parade from the Short Strand area. Paint bombs, stones and bottles rained down on the participants and spectators, many were injured several of them requiring hospital treatment, one young bands women has a suspected fractured cheekbone; another female received 10 stitches to a leg wound; a full list of casualties is being collated.
“The onslaught left young children and many spectators traumatised.
“Considerable damage was also caused to banners and band uniforms as the parade returned home through what had become a riot. The riot was clearly the responsibility of those from the Short Strand who attacked the parade and its supporters.”
The Orange Order in Belfast also insisted that peaceful protests were held at Twaddell Avenue, Carlisle Circus, Hesketh Road, Ballygomartin Road, Flax Street, Clifton Park Avenue and the Albertbridge Road.”
The Order also went on to said that a number of parades were attacked on July 12.
“Ballynafeigh District were attacked with eggs and bottles in the morning at Agincourt Avenue as they made there way to join the main parade. Two young girls and two band members were hit with missiles. The police protection normally present at this location was absent.
“Sandy Row District was attacked with missiles from Peter’s Hill as they paraded along the Shankill Road in the morning on route to Carlisle Circus. One member was injured.
“Lodges at Lancaster Street, York Street junction were attacked by Nationalists throwing bricks and bottles on two occasions, one bandsman was injured. Hand to hand fighting was taking place as those on parade defended themselves before police arrived.”
The Order said it felt that the PSNI has “serious questions to answer”.
“Not least, with so many police officers available, why were they unable to stop clearly orchestrated attacks; and in the case of the Short Strand, a prolonged attack lasting over 30 minutes along the length of the Peace Wall,” the statement said.
“The Secretary of State needs to reflect on the Parades Commission, the body that created this crisis, rather than further alienating the Unionist community by ill informed comments.
“The violence, which we condemn, cannot be used as an excuse for not addressing the issues that have been raised by this ludicrous determination, a shared future, community relations and Nationalist’s intolerance. Issues that require a political response and solution.
“There will be the blame game and point scoring by all for the events that unfolded, however the Orange Institution will not be scapegoated for where the responsibility for this crisis truly lies - at the door of the Parades Commission.
“It was always recognised that politics would be the ultimate solution and in that respect we welcome the recall of the Assembly.
“We will review our position regarding peaceful protest after the debate there and following further discussions with our political and community partners. We again reiterate, violence is not the way forward and ask all involved in such activity to stop immediately.”