Numbers at a protest march to mark 1,000 days of the loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue will be swollen by anger at the policing of dissident republican parades, the organisers have predicted.
In just over a week’s time, a major parade will take place at the north Belfast interface, just three months before the main disputed Orange Order parade is due to again attempt to return up the Crumlin Road on the Twelfth.
The April 7 march will see people “coming from all around Northern Ireland and further afield”, according to Gerald Solinas, organiser of the Twaddell protest camp.
Mr Solinas said that he expected to see an increased turnout in protest at how police allowed a series of dissident republican parades – where many participants openly paraded in terrorist garb – to pass unhindered.
He said: “There will probably be more people coming after what they’ve seen over these parades, not only to mark 1,000 days, but to show their disgust at the two-tier policing and joke that the Parades Commission is.
“This Parades Commission keeps giving these people parades instead of saying, ‘No, because you’ve acted inappropriately’.”
Mr Solinas, a former British soldier who is a member of the UDA-linked West Belfast UPRG and also a member of the Orange Order, said that he had been “appalled at the two-tier policing”.
Drawing attention to a photograph circulating online of a Garda officer removing the mask from a dissident republican parading in the Republic, he said: “If they can do it in the south, why can’t they do it in Northern Ireland?”
Since 2013 - the year that serious loyalist rioting erupted at the Woodvale/Ardoyne interface after Orangemen were prevented from parading back up the Crumlin Road - loyalists and the unionist political parties have been protesting at the Parades Commission’s refusal to permit the return Twelfth parade.
However, despite the long period of pressure and loyalist rioting last year when the parade was again stopped at Woodvale just before it got to Ardoyne, that campaign appears no closer to securing its goal.
Mr Solinas said: “I’m appalled that the PSNI seem to be letting republicans get away with anything to appease them and keep some sort of quietness in the community,” he said.
He said that there had been two illegal parades on Easter Sunday - one in Ardoyne and one in Coalisland - without police intervention.
“We had a massive police presence around Twaddell, but no police in Ardoyne where an illegal parade was taking place.
“We have people in paramilitary dress and masks running around, we have young children in paramilitary dress - that is extremely worrying.”
He said that one year after loyalist rioting at Woodvale there were around 100 people arrested, adding: “Rightly so - if people are rioting they should be brought before the courts and pay their debt to society.”
But he said that in Lurgan’s dissident republican stronghold of the Kilwilkie estate, “there’s rioting every night”, joking that if all the culprits were arrested “there wouldn’t be anybody left in it”.
Speaking as an Orangeman, Mr Solinas said that he was “totally disgusted”, saying that no Orange parade in the area had any “paramilitary trappings”, yet “we’re getting absolutely hammered”.
He added: “Meanwhile, they (dissidents) are saying ‘we can parade wherever we want’.”
The PSNI has said that its “over-riding desire” throughout the weekend’s parades had been to ensure that the parades and protests “passed off lawfully and peacefully”.
The police have said that they are investigating suspected breaches of Parades Commission determinations in Coalisland and un-notified processions in Ardoyne and Lurgan, during which the police said that they had gathered evidence “and will present reports to the Public Prosecution Service with a view to holding individuals accountable”.
North Belfast DUP councillor Brian Kingston said that his constituents had “contrasted the heavy police presence at Twaddell on Easter Monday when the Apprentice Boys parade was coming down - there must have been about 20 police officers hemming people in - with dissident republican parades taking place with very little police presence.”
Mr Kingston said: “We are alarmed at that contrast.”
The Orangeman said he was “particularly alarmed about the parade on the Lower Falls and Divis areas on Easter Sunday, where people carrying flags marked with ‘D Company’ - the same flags which were erected in that area close to Belfast Metropolitan College...clearly this was nothing to do with 1916 but about commemorating and celebrating the actions of PIRA in the Troubles who were responsible for the deaths of police and soldiers and the disappearance of people such as Jean McConville.”
When asked if he understood why the police may be reticent about going into the Ardoyne area in large numbers, given that they have been shot at from there by dissident republicans, Mr Kingston said: “Of course, we’re aware of police safety, but that cannot be allowed to be used as an excuse for people to get away with brazen paramilitary displays and the glorification of terrorism.”