The general secretary of the Apprentice Boys of Derry has accused the PSNI of mounting a “disastrous” and “unjustified” policing operation at its parade on Saturday.
The comments come amid concerns raised by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and other representatives and others in Londonderry after one band bearing a Parachute Regiment insignia on their uniform was allowed to take part in the Relief of Derry commemorative procession through the city centre.
Police had intervened at the parade but eventually allowed the Larne-based Clydevalley Flute Band to take part along the route with a heavy police escort. Their coach however was later stopped in the Waterside area and police have forwarded a report to the Public Prosecution Service in relation to symbols and behaviour.
A number of individuals who took part in an un-notified republican protest in the city centre on Saturday afternoon have also been reported to the PPS.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd today defended the policing operation and the subsequent actions of the PSNI. He said police understood that there were “places were space, history and symbols were contentious”.
“That was the situation clearly that we found ourselves in on Saturday in Derry-Londonderry,” he said.
“I think people understand the contentious nature of symbols and history in that area. As a policing service, we have a professional responsibility and a legitimate purpose of maintaining the peace and keeping people safe. So, when confronted with that situation in that context with that purpose at the weekend, and looking to facilitate a large public parade in Londonderry with a large number of participants, that was the objective of our decision making.”
He further claimed: “The vast majority of people who arrived in Derry-Londonderry at the weekend to participate in the parade did so within the law, respectfully and with due regard to that context. One band, in our view, chose not to have a sensitivity towards that context to the point where we believed it would have interfered with our legitimate purpose of keeping the peace and keeping people safe, and on that basis we engaged and sought their co-operation to resolve that in a constructive way. They chose not to do so.
“We sought to engage the involvement of the organisers and their marshals to assist in that and they chose not to do so.”
He said that with such a large number of people on the parade on the cityside and the Waterside a decision was taken not to cause further delays and an alternative operational arrangement was put in place to ensure there was no breach of the peace.
However Apprentice Boys general secretary Billy Moore claimed: “I think the policing operation was disastrous, unjustified and uncalled for.”
“There would have been much simpler means of dealing with this issue,” he contended.
“The issue is a small insignia on the sleeve of the shirt worn by band members. This has been worn throughout the summer season by this band so why did police create a major issue at this parade in Londonderry?”
Mr Moore said that the Apprentice Boys don’t vet every single band coming to the city for the parade, which, he pointed out, passed off peacefully.
He also said that police and the Parades Commission had been given the names of all 145 bands participating on Saturday and said that no issues were raised.
“There was certainly no mention of this band,” he said.
The general secretary also condemned a number of petrol and paint bomb attacks on the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall and at Walker’s Plinth on the City Walls on both Saturday night and Sunday night.
“We don’t hear a lot of condemnation coming from those attacks, which could have been life-threatening,” he said.
Mr Moore also claimed the day itself was “an outstanding success”.
“We gathered one of the largest parades in Ireland in a peaceful manner and it would have gone totally peaceful if it hadn’t been for the actions of the PSNI,” he claimed.
Saturday's policing operation has also been criticised by a number of unionist politicians, some of whom say they will be seeking a meeting with the chief constable to voice their concerns.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast today, ACC Todd, who was the overall commander in charge on Saturday, rejected those who have characterised the police operation as "heavy handed".
"I see no grounds for using that description," he said. "Our engagement before, during and after the parade were by way of discussion and negotiation and it confounds me how anyone can describe that as heavy handed. It was proportionate, responsible and constructive - to style it otherwise, I don't share that assessment."
During the press conference, a former soldier carrying a flag with the Parachute Regiment insignia on it staged a one-man protest outside PSNI headquarters.
The Clydevalley Flute Band was contacted for comment, but hadn't responded at the time of writing.