Apprentice Boys recognition of offence caused welcomed

Graeme Stenhouse, Governor of the General Committee of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, places a wreath at the War Memorial on Saturday morning ahead of the main parade. DER3319-112KM
Graeme Stenhouse, Governor of the General Committee of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, places a wreath at the War Memorial on Saturday morning ahead of the main parade. DER3319-112KM

The Apprentice Boys’ recognition that the parachute regiment insignia worn by a band during Saturday’s Relief of Derry commemorations ‘may have caused upset to many in the nationalist community’ has been welcomed.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA said that it was an “important step toward the inclusive space of accommodation” within the city following controversy over the emblem worn by Clyde Valley Flute Band from Larne, who were escorted during the parade by the PSNI after earlier being stopped by police.

The band have said they are considering making a complaint to the Police Ombudsman after its members’ were stopped by police as they left the city on Saturday evening.

Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion meanwhile has said she plans to challenge the Apprentice Boys of Derry over the inclusion of imagery relating to the British army’s parachute regiment during last Saturday’s parade , which she said “has caused deep anger in the city”.

“Agreements had been reached with the Apprentice Boys over many years to ensure respectful, non-contentious parades in Derry. This accommodation was achieved through inclusive dialogue,” she claimed, adding:

“Agreements made must be honoured or they lose all meaning and I intend to make that absolutely clear to the Apprentice Boys.”

The Apprentice Boys last night reiterated their claims that no agreement was in place with police over symbols displayed at the event.

The Appprentice Boys met in the city last night and afterwards read out a statement on camera to the BBC. Apprentice Boys Governor Graeme Stenhouse: “We had no prior knowledge of the band’s uniform, or this incident, until the conclusion of the main parade on Bond Street.

“We recognise this may have caused upset to many in the nationalist community.”

He added: “We wish to continue with this constructive dialogue to ensure that good will and understanding prevails.

“We also wish to ensure our city continues to lead in promoting reconciliation and is a model of respect to all communities.”

Speaking afterwards, SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said: “The statement from the Apprentice Boys acknowledging the genuine hurt caused is a positive step that will contribute to healing in the city. It is welcome and demonstrates the kind of leadership that Derry and the North needs right now.

“Tensions in our city have been heightened over the course of the weekend. We all have a responsibility to take the poison out of a very difficult situation and work together to reconcile our communities. We have occupied the space of accommodation and respect before, there is no reason we can’t move to back to that ground again.

“There is no future for our city that excludes any community. Now we have to work hard to bring people together and sustain the spirit of reconciliation.”

Commenting on the policing operation Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said this week: “Anyone in Northern Ireland, including those of us who have responsibility for policing it, understand that in our society space, history and symbols often remain contested. This can result in many difficult policing decisions. That was the situation we found ourselves in on Saturday in Derry/Londonderry.

“The vast majority of the people who arrived in Derry/Londonderry 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.

“With a large number of people delayed for a significant amount of time, where some people were parading on the Cityside and other people were waiting on the Waterside area of the City, instead of persisting in that delay with the risks that entailed, we chose to make other operational arrangements to help ensure that people were kept safe and prevent a breach of the peace or a likely breach of the peace for the remainder of the parade.

“Once the parade was finished we took steps to seek to identify those within the band so that we could fulfil our duty to put the matters and facts before the Public Prosecution Service in order that they might determine if there was any liability on the part of those people responsible. That is a legitimate policing purpose and was done so professionally. Once those details and assurances were given to us those people were free to travel on their way.

“As a policing service we have a professional responsibility, and a legitimate purpose, to maintain the peace and keep people safe. These were the objectives of our decision making on Saturday. The event passed off peacefully, people were kept safe, no one was hurt and nobody was unduly inconvenienced by police actions.

“Derry/Londonderry has for a long time been considered the model for parades and protest. Efforts must now turn to dialogue to ensure that the that the good work of years gone by can be continued.”

In a statement released through their solicitors, the Clyde Valley Flute Band, also known as The Gun Runners, said the insignia on their uniform is only visible at conversation distance”.

“The officers of the band wish to correct any false impression which may be held regarding the band’s uniform being deliberately provocative and specifically designed for the parade in Londonderry. The uniform in question has been worn on many previous occasions without incident or controversy.

“The officers of the band now invite the police to give real and practical effect to their right to freedom of expression during the course of any investigation.

“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, nor could the police have formed any reasonable suspicion that an offence had been committed.

“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 in relation to the conduct of the police officers involved in the unlawful detention of their members.”