Band members jeer as PSNI attempt to halt illegal parade in Markethill - reports of further planned events this weekend
Band members jeered at police as they marched past them during an illegal parade in Markethill last night.
The parade was reportedly announced to participants only three hours in advance and members who took part did not wear any uniform.
There have been parades and protests across many unionist areas over Easter, reportedly sparked by the Irish Sea customs border and the failure to prosecute anyone for alleged Covid regulation breaches at the funeral of senior republic Bobby Storey in west Belfast.
While many events were peaceful, there has also been significant rioting, especially in Belfast, leaving dozens of police officers injured.
Brief video footage from Markethill last night shows 30 to 40 people taking part in a parade, with flutes and drums, marching along the main street of the Co Armagh town. Some of them covered their faces. In one picture drums were covered with flags, presumably to stop the protest being linked to any particular band. The images online showed a few dozen spectators.
As an unnotified and therefore illegal parade, police were on the scene with a large sign warning participants that they were liable to arrest and prosecution. One police officer with a hand held video camera recorded the event while a spectator with a mobile phone walked up to the officer and filmed him.
A police officer was heard to issue warnings by loudhailer which was virtually drowned out by the band music. There were loud jeers as the band passed by the officers.
A loyalist source told the News Letter: “There was quite a large police presence - five vehicles. At each junction the PSNI attempted to stop the band and accompanying crowd, but the procession continued. Police displayed a banner advising of illegality at each junction and an announcement was made on loudspeaker which was unintelligible due to the band volume.”
The source reported that “about 180 loyalists took part” which appeared to be many more than what was seen on brief video footage. He said that the “notification” for the parade only went out at about 5pm and the parade happened at 8pm.
Further parades are planned for this weekend in Moygashel, Larne and Ballymena area, he said, with a “legal” parade planned for Markethill which he claimed the Parades Commission is restricting. This has not been confirmed.
However the Commission has told the News Letter it is not placing any restrictions on the Markethill parade - by Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band - but has advised organisers of the need to meet Covid regulations.
A group calling itself Mid and South Armagh Loyalists said on Twitter: “So, the PSNI giving warnings to loyalist bandsmen in Markethill by loudhailer. Did they do that outside the GAA lockdown lock-ins. Of course they didn’t. Two Tier policing exposed again.”
There are also reports of a peaceful parade having taken place in Glengormley last night.
Elected unionists have condemned attacks on PSNI officers during protests, with PUP leader Billy Hutchinson calling for any protests to be calm and peaceful and run with PSNI cooperation.
PSNI District Commander for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, Superintendent Patricia Foy said police would now review the parade for breaches of parading and pandemic legislation.
“Police were made aware of an un-notified procession on Main Street in Markethill yesterday evening, Wednesday April 21,” she said.
“Organisers of parades are required to give formal notification of their intentions and, last night, warnings were given to participants and an evidence-gathering operation was in place. We will now review all the footage gathered and consider any suspected breaches of the Public Processions (NI) Act 1998 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020.”
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