This afternoon saw a large enough gathering of republicans in Lurgan (500+ seems a reasonable estimate). For those attending their intention was to demonstrate support for republican prisoners and protest against the conditions/regime they face in gaol. It also exposed an entirely different issue, a problem that could present an increasing challenge to the Parades Commission, PSNI, Stormont Justice Minister and the Assembly as a whole.
The first large scale republican challenge to state structures on parading came with éirígí’s protest against the British Armed Forces homecoming parade in 2008. They didn’t apply for their protest march and the PSNI prevented them proceeding more than a few hundred yards.
Since then we have seen groups like GARC also reject the Parades Commission as a route to protest and engaging in miltant action without approval or permission.
Today’s protest in Lurgan saw the biggest challenge yet from republicans to the northern state’s ability and right to legislate/police their parades and protests. As republicans from various groups (definitely not SF*) gathered to support republican prisoners, no permission was sought or gained. The PSNI in huge numbers attempted to restrict where the gathering marched but did not make (or were unable to make) an attempt to prevent it taking place – beyond stopping one bus of supporters over claims of a baldy tyre.
This will inevitably annoy many with Loyalist marching organisations but who really expects 100’s of dissenting republicans to care about state structures and restrictions on their right to protest and oppose? This is the kind of republicanism we saw for decades and while others may have left the confrontational approach behind they and the organisations they support will increasingly have to decide how to deal with those that refuse to conform.
*UPDATE Some SF members are confirmed as supporting/joining the parade. Unsure if this was in an offical capacity.