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March triggers Ardoyne riot

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Water cannons were sprayed as police and British soldiers clashed with rioters in the Ardoyne district. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said that 25 of its officers were hurt in the disturbances.
The unrest began Monday night after the Police Service of Northern Ireland allowed 300 loyalist supporters of the Orangemen, who were returning to Ligioniel and Ballysillan in North Belfast, follow the parade past the Ardoyne shops.
Bottles were thrown at the parade from the Catholic area, and later escalated into attacks on police and soldiers, despite efforts by republican marshals to control the crowd.
Sinn Fein said the decision was in “direct defiance” of a ruling by the Parades Commission, the body that adjudicates on disputed parades. The commission had said only Orangemen and their official marshals should pass Ardoyne on the return parade.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams accused the British government of approving the police action.
Police said they were in “full accordance” with the ruling, and the Rev. Ian Paisley’s DUP said the Commission could have no legal authority over spectators. Direct confrontation between nationalists and unionists remained the main cause of concern among police and British government officials.
Stifling sectarian violence has taken on an added importance over the last two summers, because the peace process has reached a prolonged and delicate impasse. Most politicians believe the problems will be resolved with enough time and effort, but they also recognize that any outbursts of sectarian violence could derail any progress.
A number of factors combined to make last year’s marching season relatively peaceful, including direct communication between republican and loyalist leaders in hotspot areas. But political leaders worry that they could be pushing their luck this year, especially as the Orange Order said it would challenge official restrictions on some of its parades, including the march past Ardoyne.
The unrest came at the end of a day when tens of thousands of Orangemen, supported by loyalist bands, took to the streets to mark the 314th anniversary of the victory of Protestant King William III over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne. The victory assured Protestant ascendancy on the British throne.
Orange marchers remain one of the most touchy issues between Catholics and Protestants in the North. The Orange Order is a religious and political Protestant organization that holds opposition to Catholicism as one of its main tenets. Members are not allowed to marry Catholics and are not supposed to attend Catholic religious services, although that requirement is often ignored for weddings and funerals.
Where their marches pass nationalist areas, they are frequently deemed offensive. In some cases, tension has been increased by blatant association between the marchers and loyalist paramilitary groups.
But the Orangemen frequently refuse to talk to residents of those areas, claiming that opposition to the parades is politically-inspired subterfuge by the IRA.
This year’s Ardoyne march had more restrictions imposed on it than unionists wanted but was given more access to the road past the Catholic neighborhood than nationalists wanted.
The restrictions on the parade sparked repeated meetings involving the British government and unionist and nationalist politicians.
The parade took place after some isolated outbreaks of violence on the Eleventh Night, the eve of the Twelfth marches when loyalists celebrate around huge bonfires. They often burn images of the Pope, although he appears to have been displaced as a favorite fuel by Sinn Fein politicians in recent years.
Around 60 people were involved in a riot in Kilrea, Co. Derry, and police and firemen were attacked while trying to clear up a bonfire in Limavady, Co. Derry. There was also reports of gunfire at a bonfire in East Belfast.
In another incident, SDLP politician Danny O’Connor said his elderly mother received a death threat after complaining to loyalists who put up flags outside the nationalist politician’s home in the build-up to the Twelfth.

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