By Anne Cadwallader
ARDOYNE — The SDLP and Sinn Fein are questioning the words and actions of Belfast’s most senior police officer after he predicted major violence in the streets and claimed republicans were planning to “bus” young rioters into Ardoyne on July 12.
Assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan claimed on the eve of the “Twelfth” Orange marches that republicans were planning a “major riot” in Ardoyne, where a loyalist march was to be forced past a mainly nationalist area.
His words created intense speculation that the police were planning a crackdown on nationalists protesting against several Orange marchers. There was an atmosphere of near panic in North and West Belfast amid rumors of a “Bloody Sunday-style” operation being planned.
In the event, violence in North Belfast was insignificant while Sinn Fein has denied any plans to bus in young republicans to take part in rioting. McQuillan was forced to praise senior Sinn Fein members on the evening of the July 12 after TV footage showed them calming tensions.
Republicans and community workers are asking how McQuillan could claim that buses full of young republicans could flock to Ardoyne, through city traffic snarled-up by the main Orange demonstration and tight police security?
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They are also asking why republicans would need to import angry young men to an area like Ardoyne, where a quarter of the population is under 21, and anti-police sentiment is already running high?
They point to a similarly tense situation in Derry, four years previously, when McQuillan made similar claims about nationalists stockpiling acid and petrol bombs to use against an Apprentice Boys march. Rioting then was sporadic and republicans stewarded a protest march to prevent violence.
When the disputed Orange march passed Ardoyne on the evening of July 12, reporters watched as leading republicans, including Gerry Kelly, Bik McFarlane and Bobby Storey, used their bodies, with arms outstretched, to prevent a minority of protesters attacking passing loyalists who were shouting “UVF” and “UDA” while giving two-fingered salutes and waving union flags.
The INLA is believed to have been recruiting heavily in North Belfast over recent weeks, finding many among Ardoyne’s disaffected youth ready to believe that the mainstream republican movement has, in the words of some, “gone soft.”
Tension was ratcheted up earlier on the 12th in Ardoyne when the police announced that they had discovered a variety of missiles in searches of shop roofs in the area, including bottles and bricks.
“Most sinister of all, a quantity of star-shaped spiked metal objects had been discovered,” a police spokesman said. Chief inspector Colin Taylor said the missiles seized would have been used by republicans in an attack on police.
“These items were discovered in a search just before the Orange march passed the Ardoyne area this morning,” he said. “It appears that these items had been stashed there for an attack on the police, army and possibly the general public.
“There are things there that have been specifically made for nothing other than to injure members of the security forces. The discovery of the spiked metal implements is especially sinister.”
Taylor said the find, along with others in the area in recent days, proved McQuillan to be correct when he said republicans had been planning violence. “We are very concerned that there may be other stashes of weapons which we have not yet found,” he said.
But, contradicting this police warning, evidence produced by a sharp-eyed U.S. observer appears to indicate that the “sinister, star-shaped spikes” were nothing more than ordinary security precautions taken by local shopkeepers.
The U.S. observer, Diane Greene Lent, a New York-native, was on duty patrolling the area at dawn when she spotted British soldiers detaching the devices from a security bar where they were in use to prevent vandalism on the flat roof of the local credit union.
Greene Lent had her camera with her and her photograph, apparently showing a British soldier detaching the security spikes from their fixed-rail position, appears to undermine McQuillan’s theory.
After the Orange march passed off without major incident, McQuillan said: “I’m absolutely delighted that things passed off as peacefully as they have. Last night we put out a very dire warning.
“I believe that we were correct in our assessment of that. I hope that has made a major contribution by bringing pressure to bear on key people to stop the violence that was planned.”
“People in the republican movement, very senior members of the republican movement, Provisional IRA, were clearly involved in marshalling the protest. When some young people did begin to throw missiles, they moved in to stop it.”
The most serious victim over the Twelfth was a 16-year-old Catholic youth, the victim of a new category of sectarian crime, the “drive-by stabbing.” He is “stable” in hospital after being attacked as he walked home in North Belfast on the night of July 11.
There was serious rioting in the Springfield Road area of West Belfast, where nationalist stewards were withdrawn in protest at repeated refusals by the Parades Commission to reroute annual Orange marches through the area.
Eyewitnesses say the violence on the Springfield Road began when a petrol bomb was lobbed by loyalists over the peaceline from the Shankill Road side. After nationalists returned fire with two petrol bombs, the police baton charged.