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Parades Commission Blamed for Violence Around Protestant March

Nationalist protestors argue with police as Orangemen march past the Nationalist Ardoyne shops of North Belfast in Northern Ireland on Thursday. Photo by Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images.

Attempts to prevent violence at a contentious annual Protestant-Loyalist Orange Order parade in North Belfast appeared to backfire Thursday when protestors clashed with police in a Catholic part of town.

The July 12 parade, honoring Protestant King William’s victory over Catholic rival King James II in 1690, routinely sparks trouble when the marchers pass the predominantly Catholic part of the Ardoyne neighborhood.

On Thursday, police used water cannons and plastic bullets on protestors who threw stones and bricks and torched a vehicle. At least four police officers were injured.

Some said this year’s violence was caused not only by the parade itself but by official decisions made prior to the parade.

On July 6, the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, an official body that regulates parade routes by Protestant-Unionists and proposed counter-protests by Catholic-Nationalist groups, ordered part of this year’s Belfast July 12th parade to return earlier than in previous years — by 4 p.m. — in an attempt to minimize the potential for violence.

But a Catholic-Nationalist group called the Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective was granted permission to stage a protest march starting at 5:30 p.m.

Protestant-Unionists decried the commission’s early-return order as caving in to the threat of violent protest and challenged the ruling in court.

Those challenges failed, and on Thursday morning the Loyalist Orange Order Belfast district chaplain, Mervyn Gibson, announced what he called a “peaceful solution to an appalling predicament.” The idea was to bus some of the marchers to get them to the contentious stretch by the deadline.

But that decision angered Catholics, who saw it as shortcutting less controversial streets to get to their stretch, and they considered it even more provocative than the original marching plans.

One politician in North Belfast called for their secretary of state to fire the Parades Commission for how it handled the march.

Neil Jarman, director of the Institute for Conflict Research, said that a great deal of important peace building work is going on in North Belfast, especially projects involving ex-combatants working in tandem to address communal issues, and educational projects that bring Protestant and Catholic young people together. But that work suffers each summer when the marching season arrives, he said.

“You start to move forward from September to May and then in between May and September, you tend to go backwards or at best stand still so that it’s two steps forward, one step backward.”

Kira Kay and Jason Maloney of the Bureau for International Reporting reported on the persistent tensions in Belfast on Wednesday’s NewsHour:

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