Following on from the 12th July loyalist rioting in Belfast, the Orange Order and loyalists conceived of the idea of establishing a “civil rights” camp to keep the pot boiling at the most sensitive of Belfast’s interfaces: the Ardoyne-Twaddell Avenue roundabout.
This decision was clearly taken with the support of unionist politicians, who have regularly attended rallies and parades at the ‘camp site.’
The sight of an array of loyalist flags and banners awkwardly positioned at the interface neatly illustrates the belligerent nature of the stunt, which has, interestingly, been effectively hijacked by the UVF’s political wing as part of its attempt to relaunch itself and establish an electoral base to carry it through to the next election cycle.
The Progressive Unionist Party’s leader, Billy Hutchinson, and local senior loyalist figure and party member, Winston Irvine, feature prominently at the parades and protests, though which one (if either) conceived of the notion that it would be a good idea to blast out Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ protest song will have felt stung by the singer’s public expression of disapproval at the act.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the stated reason for the camp: to keep a vigil until the Brethren are permitted to complete their parade from the 12th July.
It is an entirely spurious grievance, made all the more so since loyalists have already paraded down the Crumlin Road since the 12th July: the UVF-aligned Shankill Protestant Boys Flute Band accompanied the Apprentice Boys of Derry along the road earlier this month.
The Irish News reported earlier in the week that the PSNI were investigating comments attributed to a member of one of the bands being supported by the DUP and other unionist politicians in their campaign to parade along the contentious stretch of road. Keith Tully stated that he was ’praying’ that a bomb would explode and kill every man, woman and child in Ardoyne in a Facebook post.
The Pride of Ardoyne band, for whom Mr Tully belongs, marches beneath a banner depicting the names of two dead UVF men, and in the past month numerous loyalist paramilitary aligned bands have made their way to the interface to partake in the ritual of marching to police lines at the roundabout before blasting out loyalist themes to arouse the assembled masses.
Two nights ago, loyalists attempted to ratchet up tensions further at the interface when a number of protesters and supporters broke through police lines and attempted to march up the Crumlin Road. At least one loyalist can clearly be seen to be throwing objects in the direction of the Ardoyne shop fronts (where some locals had gathered) and it was a number of minutes before the PSNI had managed to corral the loyalists back on their side of the interface. One angry loyalist can be heard berating the PSNI officers, shouting “Bring the B Specials back.”
At least one DUP councillor participated in a white line protest ahead of the provocative and illegal parade, and another one sought to excuse the dangerously reckless conduct of the assembled Orangemen and loyalists by describing it as a “sincere attempt to return” up the road.
The Loyalists Against Democracy group have done an effective job at satirizing the loyalist campaign, but there must be genuine fears that the dangerous games being played by loyalists in the north’s most sensitive interface could spark an even worse confrontation in the time ahead.
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