Orange Order challenges PSNI over ‘harassing’ bands about their current mood and plans for the summer

The Orange Order has contacted the chief constable to complain about “harassment” of flute bands in the wake of loyalist street violence.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 9:08 am

Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Orange Order’s grand secretary, said he had contacted Simon Byrne after the PSNI phoned various flute bands in south Down to ascertain their current political opinions and plans for the summer.

A spokesman for Pride of the Hill Flute Band in Rathfriland told the News Letter that a local police officer contacted three senior members of his band last week.

“There seemed to be two angles,” he said. “They were trying to ascertain the mood within the band about everything that was going on and they were asking if we were intending to attend any un-notified parades.

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Rev Mervyn Gibson said contacting anyone to ask if they plan to commit a crime would be ‘harassment’

“We told them that like other bands, there is discontent out there in the unionist-loyalist community about the [NI] Protocol and the whole carry on at the [Storey] funeral and the PSNI’s response to it.”

He accepted that the PSNI recommended prosecutions in the wake of the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey in west Belfast, but questions to what extent they investigated it. He also believes the PSNI “seemed to facilitate it” despite the high numbers of people who attended.

“There has been a lot of outrage about this,” he said. “We note that police did not attempt to pre-empt any issues with the [Storey] funeral but they are trying to pre-empt actions from ourselves.”

He told police they had no plans to attend any un-notified parades. He is aware of at least six bands in south Down that have been similarly contacted by the PSNI.

”It didn’t really bother us to be honest. We let them know there is a certain level of anger in the community about all that has been happening. A lot of bands seem to have taken offence from it but we weren’t particularly bothered.”

Rev Gibson said that ringing someone up to ask if they are planning to commit a crime would constitute “harassment”.

He added: “We have raised this matter with the chief constable and it is being looked into.”

Downshire Guiding Star Flute Band said that police officers had called at the homes of its members unannounced to ask the same questions.

A spokesman said: “Last week there were numerous attempts by the PSNI to contact the band and its members. These ranged from phone calls to unannounced visits at family homes.

“The actions of the Chief Constable has led to a complete lack of confidence in the police from the members of the band and others in the community.

“As a band we feel that it is pointless to engage with the police while concerns from the community are not looked into and until confidence in policing can be restored.”

A PSNI spokeswoman said it was normal to discuss various issues with communities.

“As is normal practice, police engage with the communities they serve on an ongoing basis on a range of issues to help keep people safe,” she said.

“Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is conducting an independent review of police actions in relation to the funeral of Bobby Storey and, until that review is complete, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

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