The wearing of balaclavas during a parade to mark 250 days since Ligoniel lodges were stopped ‘walking home’ past Ardoyne shops on July 12 has been defended as “street theatre”.
Ulster Political Research Group spokesman for west Belfast Gerald Solinas said “more than 1,000 people” attended the parade which was led by vintage Army vehicles.
“Army Land Rovers and Union Jacks led the parade and it was entirely peaceful like parades every other night have been,” he said. “The guys who were driving the Land Rovers did have balaclavas on. But it was nothing sinister, it was more about their work situation, to hide their identity.”
The parade followed the route of nightly protests from Denmark Street and Clifton Street before finishing at the Twaddell protest camp.
Pictures of the event show Orangemen among the crowd.
Mr Solinas slammed claims from Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly that the event on March 18 was “a paramilitary show of strength”.
“It definitely was not,” he said. “This was street theatre, which is what I said to Gerry Kelly on Twitter. This is what they do when you see images of men in balaclavas and kids carrying guns.”
He said he “could not count the number of flags” at the event and insisted there were “no paramilitary flags”.
He said there were Ulster Defence Union flags which he agreed were used by the UDA but “still not a UDA flag”.
“There were Union Jacks, Orange flags, the King’s Colours, Youth Citizen Volunteer 1916 flags, the old UVF flags – all legal flags,” he said.
“The other flags were colour party flags from bands throughout Northern Ireland who turned up to show their support for the camp.
“It started at 7.30pm and it was over for 8.30pm.
“There were around 400 Orangemen from different parts of Northern Ireland there to support us.”
A spokesman for the Orange Order said: “There are peaceful protests every evening at Twaddell Avenue and it is in everyone’s interest to have this matter resolved for the long term.
“We are not in a position to comment on the reasoning behind someone bringing the vehicles in question to the protest.
“However, we are aware generally that a number of those taking part in the protests have been visited by the PSNI to warn that they are at threat from dissident republicans, and it is in this context that we understand some of those taking part in the protest are covering their faces.
“In addition, people are now concerned about being intimidated or threatened in their workplace or on the street because they are seen at the protest.”
He added that “protestors are entitled to protest without threat, which is clearly not happening at this time”.
Police said they received a report of four military-style vehicles and of a number of individuals with their faces covered.
They added: “If any criminal offences are found to have taken place an investigation will be carried out.”