The news that 26 individuals have received fines of £400 plus for staging a sit down protest in advance of the loyalist 12th July parade along the Crumlin Road earlier in the year is newsworthy for the fact that it represents a departure from how the PSNI and judiciary have previously- and subsequently- dealt with those who illegally blocked roads to make political statements; the difference being that those traditionally associated with road blocking have been of a loyalist persuasion.
As the Irish News noted in an article last week, loyalists have been known to block roads for a variety of reasons without facing similar charges from the PSNI. For example, in July 2010 loyalists in north Belfast blocked access to ASDA after a convicted loyalist member of staff had been suspended for making inappropriate comments to customers.
Just a matter of weeks ago, loyalists blocked the road in front of Belfast city hall during a protest which also involved kicking cars belonging to nationalist elected representatives. Again, no arrests were made in relation to this incident.
Ironically, loyalists in north Belfast have been quick to block roads when parade routes have been curtailed by Parades Commission determinations in the past- again, without facing similar charges from the PSNI.
In June 2011, loyalists blocked Twaddell Avenue as part of a parade protest in relation to the controversial Tour of the North parade. That illegal road blocking incident was described as “disciplined and |dignified” by the North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey.
Again, no charges were brought by the PSNI in relation to this illegal road blocking incident.
Perhaps this marks a new departure for the PSNI, though the evidence would suggest otherwise, given that these charges were brought in relation to a parade in July but were not subsequently followed through in relation to loyalist road blockers at Belfast city hall a matter of weeks ago or previous to that incident at Twaddell Avenue.
Perhaps the PSNI need to realise that the consistent application of the law (a theme already visited earlier in the year) is an infinitely more preferable and effective strategy to convince people of the sincerity of their intentions than, for example, seeking to engage in PR visits to catholic schools.
Perhaps there’s the basis of a good New Year’s resolution for Matt Baggott and his team in there somewhere……