Sunday 25 February 2018

PSNI prepare for difficult summer with parades and disputes

A member of the public throws a bottle at a bonfire on Sandy Row, Belfast on the eve of last summer's annual 'Twelfth of July' celebrations
A member of the public throws a bottle at a bonfire on Sandy Row, Belfast on the eve of last summer's annual 'Twelfth of July' celebrations

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Police are gearing up for another difficult summer in Belfast, according to a senior officer.

Parading disputes, interface violence and unwanted bonfires top the list of priorities for those tasked with keeping the peace during the forthcoming marching season.

Superintendent Bobby Singleton said: "We know that we are going to be put into some significant and challenging situations."

Last year the marching season passed off relatively peacefully.

But, with the PSNI having to absorb multimillion-pound budget cuts and undergoing a complete restructure, officers on the ground could be facing a tough few months.

Mr Singleton added: "Once again we as an organisation are going to face a challenging summer and of course that is set against the context in which we are already facing some significant budgetary pressures and indeed resourcing pressures as well."

Addressing a tension monitoring event at the Farset International Centre in west Belfast, the officer suggested a major loyalist parade next month could set the tone for the summer.

He said: "The first one on our horizon is probably going to be the 700th day of the Ligoniel Combine Parade on June 13. We anticipate there will be bigger and more significant numbers than we have seen, certainly over the last number of months.

"With that occurring just in the mouth of the marching season that will be a priority to make sure there aren't any particular incidents there which could perhaps impact on forthcoming events as well."

Unsurprisingly, significant security operations are also expected to be rolled out for the Tour of the North, Whiterock and Twelfth of July Orange parades and associated nationalist protests.

Particular focus will be on known flashpoints such as Ardoyne, Lower Newtownards Road/Short Strand, Clifton Street and at St Patrick's Church on Donegal Street.

In 2013, there were 44 police officers injured and 100 people arrested when loyalists who had been banned from marching on a contested stretch of the Crumlin Road clashed with police in Ardoyne. Previously republicans opposed to Orange marches have clashed with the PSNI in the same area.

Mr Singleton added: "At this stage, in the mouth of the marching season, we are not seeing anything which would cause us undue concern but there are certainly tensions there which we are going to have to keep a close eye on."

Meanwhile, republican commemorations, parades and unwanted anti-internment bonfires in August also pose the potential for disorder in Belfast, according to the PSNI.

Mr Singleton added: "It's not all about Twelfth of July and Orange marches."

The event hosted by the Community Relations Council (CRC) was aimed at testing the temperature of sectarian tensions in the run up to the marching season.

Peter Osborne, the CRC chairman, said: "Tension monitoring is an important tool to identify problems early and provide opportunity to address them, helped by a joined up approach between community, police and across relevant agencies.

"The more confidence local people have that tensions and incidents at local level are being addressed, the more confidence they will have for a positive future and for a regenerated community."

Press Association

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