The organiser of an Orange children’s march which led to the PSNI deploying CS gas has blamed “a lack of common sense” for sparking the incident.
Noel Liggett, Junior Orange county secretary, said that nine children were thought to have suffered the ill-effects of the gas as trouble flared in south of the city.
He added that the parade had been merely a few hundred yards from its destination, and that if the police had been patient for just a few minutes, the entire fiasco would have been avoided.
On Tuesday night, the PSNI had issued a statement which said: ”Following a minor disturbance at a band parade in the Ormeau Road, Belfast, this evening at 5.15pm two police officers received minor injuries and damage was caused to a police motorcycle.
“Police have arrested one male on suspicion of criminal damage and assault on Police. He is currently in custody and enquiries are continuing.”
Later in the night, a man, aged 26, was charged with two counts of assault on police and one of disorderly behaviour (he is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on April 26).
The parade had been in Carrickfergus earlier in the day and had just returned to the city for a short march to conclude the day.
The march emerged from the Annadale area in south Belfast onto the main Ormeau Road, en route to the Orange Hall near the Pavilion bar at roughly 5pm.
He estimated that the parade was a maximum of about 300 yards (about 900 feet) from its destination when an altercation began – initially involving just a single officer.
He was at the back, and did not see much of what unfolded.
However told the News Letter that the police officer had begun pushing band members into the middle of the road and away from the edge of the road, where cars were parked.
He said some kind of “confrontation” then developed, and a different police officer then dismounted a motorbike and used CS spray.
“Obviously some incident occurred there, and the other officer went to his aid,” he said.
“I question his judgement that he allowed that situation to develop. I think it’s a very poor sense of judgement and a lack of common sense...
“If he’d have waited three minutes we’d have been back at the hall, the national anthem would’ve been played, and the parade would have been dispersed.”
Superintendent Darrin Jones gave his own account of the incident to the BBC.
The corporation’s website quoted him as saying: “As they were going up the road, they (the band) were coming into contact with some parked cars or cars that were being diverted off the route,” he said.
“The officer at the time, who is a neighbourhood officer, was trying to resolve the situation and trying to nudge members of the band on to the road to keep them from damaging the cars.
“At some stage, a couple of members of that band attacked that officer, and in doing so he drew his baton to protect himself.
“The officer in front, on a motorcycle, saw what was happening, got off to assist his colleague and was again set upon by other members of the band.”
The PSNI denied that children had been sprayed directly, and said – as of mid-afternoon on Wednesday – that it would be issuing a statement shortly.
First Minister Arlene Foster is currently seeking a meeting with the PSNI chief constable about the incident.
More to follow.