Unionists call for courts to crack down on illegal demonstrations

Police were attacked with petrol bombs and projectiles at an illegal dissident republican march in Londonderry. Picture Press Eye
Police were attacked with petrol bombs and projectiles at an illegal dissident republican march in Londonderry. Picture Press Eye

Courts must impose tougher sentences in a bid to deter people from taking part in illegal republican parades, unionists have said.

It comes after police were pelted with petrol bombs and bottles as they monitored a republican march in the nationalist Creggan estate in Londonderry on Monday.

A paramilitary-style march in Belfast, organised by republican group Saoradh. The event was listed by the Parades Commission. Picture Press Eye

A paramilitary-style march in Belfast, organised by republican group Saoradh. The event was listed by the Parades Commission. Picture Press Eye

Heavy masonry was used to smash the windows of heavily armoured vehicles bearing officers patrolling the illegal demonstration, which was led by masked men in paramiltary-style uniforms.

A senior PSNI officer said video footage of the attacks will be examined in an effort to bring those responsible before the courts.

The violent scenes came on the same day that six men appeared in court following a dissident republican parade in Lurgan on Saturday.

These men were accused of taking part in an unnotified public procession and having clothing or articles as a member or a supporter of an outlawed organisation.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the onus is now on the courts to lay down “harsher penalties” for those involved in illegal demonstrations.

He told the News Letter: “Police can only gather evidence and present it to the Public Prosecution Service.

“It is vital that the courts start handing out tougher sentences to deter people from this type of activity, as they did with loyalists who took part in the flag protests a number of years ago.”

DUP MP Gregory Campbell echoed these sentiments, adding: “The courts need to send out a strong message to these republican groups who continue to flout the law by holding these illegal parades.”

Thousands of republicans attended demonstrations across the Provinces in recent days to mark the 102nd anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Police had warned demonstrators that the republican march in Londonderry was illegal and said the organisers had failed to discuss the event with them beforehand.

East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell said the PSNI must now take action by bringing people before the courts.

He told the News Letter: “Dissident groups made it clear on social media they were deliberately trying to stir up tensions in nationalist and republican circles ahead of this parade in the Creggan estate.

“As footage circulating online shows, rioters came prepared with crates full of bottles to throw at police. They were obviously hoping for an overreaction from the PSNI.

“The general public will understand that police need to be careful in these circumstances not to exacerbate the situation.

“But police also need to show that the law is being upheld and that they will take action against these people by bringing them before the courts.”

UUP justice spokesperson Mr Beattie added: “The PSNI have to take tactical as well as strategic decisions when it comes to these parades.

“These are complex and layered decisions and in the case of the Lurgan parade, police clearly thought it would be easier to break it up and charge people on the spot. I commend them for that.

“In the case of Londonderry, they clearly looked at it carefully and thought it was better to stand back and gather evidence.

“The proof of the pudding will be over the coming days or weeks, when we will hopefully see charges brought against people.”

The Upper Bann MLA added that republicans need to “fall in line” by putting a stop to illegal marches, stating: “No one is stopping people from holding commemorations for their dead, but they need to do it within the confines of the law.”

At paramilitary-style parades held in Belfast over the Easter period, police said they made the decision to “focus on monitoring and gathering evidence of any offences”.

Marchers dressed in combat-style clothing took part in Easter Rising commemorations in west Belfast over the weekend.

Police were present at the ‘Unfinished Revolution’ march on Saturday afternoon, organised by the National Republican Commemoration Committee – which plans events on behalf of republican group Saoradh.

No arrests were made at the event, which was listed by the Parades Commission.

Police were also present at a march involving the notorious IRA ‘D’ Company unit along the Falls Road on Sunday, organised by the Falls Cultural Society.

Superintendent Robert Murdie said “specific policing plans were in place” for both parades.

He added: “Our priorities were to keep communities safe, preserve public order, uphold the human rights of all and gather evidence of any wrongdoing.

“A decision was taken to run an operational response that would focus on monitoring and gathering evidence of any offences.

“We will review that evidence and where we identify any individuals committing offences, we will seek to bring them to justice.

“I want to be clear that for anyone who engaged in actions that were unlawful, there will be consequences through the criminal justice system.”