The governor of the Apprentice Boys of Derry has claimed the actions of police at its parade on Saturday was “unjustified and uncalled for”.
His comments came amid concerns raised by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others in Derry that one band bearing a Parachute Regiment insignia on their uniform was allowed to take part in the Relief of Derry procession in the city centre.
The PSNI had intervened at the parade but eventually allowed Clydevalley Flute Band (The Gun Runners) from Larne to take part with a heavy police escort. The band’s bus was later stopped in the Waterside and police have forwarded a report to the Public Prosecution Service in relation to symbols and behaviour.
In a statement issued through their solicitors yesterday, the band said they are now considering maknig a complaint to the Police Ombudsman “in relation to the conduct of police officers involved in the unlawful detention of their members”.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd yesterday defended the policing operation and said everyone understood that “in our society space, history and symbols often remain contested”. “The vast majority of the people who arrived at the weekend to participate in the parade did so within the law and with due regard to that context. One band chose to take an approach which we believed would have interfered with our legitimate purpose of keeping the peace and keeping people safe.
“On that basis we engaged with them and sought their cooperation to address that in a constructive way; they chose not to do so. We sought to engage the involvement of the organisers and their marshals to assist us in that and they were unable to do so.”
The band, through Reavey & Company Solicitors, said the uniform in question has been worn on many previous occasions without controversy.
“The Gun Runners believe that their detention by police was unlawful. A PSNI officer confirmed with a solicitor of this office that no statement of complaint relating to the conduct of the band had been received by police at the time of their detention.
“We are of the view that no offence has been committed by the band or any member of it... Notwithstanding the above, the Gun Runners will co-operate fully with the police in relation to this matter. However, consideration will now be given to making a complaint to the Police Ombudsman.”
Apprentice Boys Governor Billy Moore meanwhile described the policing operation as disastrous. “There would have been much simpler means of dealing with this issue,” Mr Moore contended. “The issue is a small insignia on the sleeve of the shirt worn by band members. This has been worn throughout the summer season by this band so why did police create a major issue at this parade in Londonderry?”
Mr. Moore said that police and the Parades Commission had been given the names of all 145 bands participating on Saturday and said that no issues were raised.
The Governor also condemned petrol and paint bomb attacks on the Memorial Hall and at Walker’s Plinth on the City Walls at the weekend.
Sinn Féin Councillor Patricia Logue also condemned the incidents, which involved the burning of tyres and pallets on Fahan Street.
During the overall policing operation on Saturday, five people were arrested of suspicion of public order offences.
Nationalist representatives in Derry meanwhile have criticised the decision to allow the Clydevalley band to march through the city centre.
SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA has requested a meeting with the Apprentice Boys of Derry, stating: “Derry has been a model of respect, reconciliation and leadership when it comes to parading. Communities have sought to secure mutual accommodation, even when relationships have been tense.
“It is a matter of profound regret that a band chose to march on the streets of this city displaying a motif of the Parachute Regiment on their uniform. This has caused deep hurt and distress to many victims in Derry. The Apprentice Boys need to understand how people feel about this. They need to listen to the voices of those who have been hurt.”
Meanwhile Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said Sinn Féin will be raising this incident with the Parades Commission and the police “to ensure it does not happen again.”
The PSNI said they will also be reporting a number of individuals in relation to an unnotified protest in the city.
Republican group Saoradh and the Derry Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association staged a white line picket on Shipquay Street on Saturday afternoon and erected a banner in opposition to “sectarian parades”.