Lodge criticises policing of band parade celebrating NI centenary

A Co Armagh Orange Lodge has criticised the policing of a band parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland as ‘blatantly disproportionate’ and ‘intimidatory’.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:40 am

Markethill District L.O.L. No.10 claimed the ‘short, controlled procession’ was followed by a large police presence including eight police vehicles and ‘no less than three police cameramen/videographers.

However the PSNI pointed out that the Health Protection Regulations remain in place adding: “It is important that people continue to adhere to them.”

Chief Inspector Barney O’Connor said: “Police were in attendance at a notified parade at Main Street in Markethill on Monday 3rd May.

PSNI officers at the Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band parade in the town to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, on May 3, 2021.

“In relation to potential breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2021, warnings were given and an evidence gathering operation put in place. We will now review all the footage gathered.”

In a statement on Facebook the Lodge said Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band had concerns prior to the event as the Parades Commission had classified the parade as ‘sensitive’.

On top of issues with the Parades Commission, which had determined the parade legal, the Lodge described the actions of the PSNI as ‘intimidatory’.

“Before this short, controlled procession began several police officers began to gather around the band. No less than three police cameramen/videographers were focused directly on the band. As they formed to start parading, a loudspeaker rang out directly at the side of the band. They were informed that they must disperse!

PSNI officers at the Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band parade in the town to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, on May 3, 2021.

“As they moved off, several PSNI cameramen followed the parade akin to the ‘blocks’ of soldiers some will remember from past bad days. One PSNI cameraman continued to take images/ video for about half of the procession.

“If that were not intimidating enough, it was observed that there were at least, at least eight marked police vehicles present in and in the vicinity of the town!

“Tonight’s events are deeply disturbing for many in the local community. Over and above all Parades Commission and Covid related issues (parades are not impacted or covered by Covid legislation. They are outdoors and are automatically socially distanced. The creation of crowd congregation is of no larger impact than queuing at shops or visiting the many outdoor visitor attractions that are now open) the proportionality observed this evening is hugely concerning. To have this single band of young men, women and children videoed and photographed in what many would consider as an overtly intimidatory manner, is worrying enough, but to have eight police vehicles present for an event of a few dozen people is blatantly disproportionate!

“What possible reasoning and justification can be given for such an approach??

“These issues need immediately addressed. Our political representatives locally and beyond need to make representation now and get questions asked.

“All efforts to get the PSNI to officially detail the restrictions upon legally notified parades and the related legislation in advance, have been ignored. We are in the situation that so-called ‘illegal’ protests are not permitted, travelling with legal events not being permitted! For any outsider it would appear that these exercises are not about the law or health. To any outsider it would appear we are in the midst of an attempt to ensure Unionism and Loyalism voices are silenced.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “The actions of the PSNI last night around a band parade in Markethill have further damaged confidence in policing within the Unionist community.

“How it was thought that it would be a good idea to interfere in a small parade marking the centenary of NI in an overwhelmingly Protestant town well known for its parading culture is beyond me. It is certainly hard to square with the police approach to Republican funerals!

“Outdoor band practices have been taking place across the country in full compliance with the law in recent days. Yesterday, in many parts of NI, individual bands paraded in a manner which was compliant with the restrictions to mark NI’s 100th birthday without any interference from the police. Why was a different approach adopted in Markethill?

“It is important to note that this was a legal parade. Although it was marked as sensitive by the Parades Commission – a bizarre decision given the history of parading in the area – the organisers made every effort to keep within the law. This is, of course, in stark contrast with the actions of Republican lawmakers at a terrorist funeral last summer.

“The issue is compounded by the fact that the PSNI were able to deploy no less than eight patrol cars and officers with cameras in an area where visible policing is often thin on the ground.

“Frankly the PSNI need to take a hard look at how this matter was approached and the damage they have done to their image, not just in the Markethill area but across Northern Ireland.”