1:43 p.m. July 12, 2013

A scribble

JASON WALSH, JULY 12, 2013 Violence flares at banned unionist parade in Belfast.

Walking to church in the summer sun doesn't sound controversial, but when the walk is a political march and the location is Northern Ireland things are not as simple as they sound.

In the midst of an 80 degree heat wave, Temperatures are not all that is high in Belfast tonight: tempers have flared, too.

Police have used water cannon and fired plastic bullets after coming under sustained attack in the Woodvale district of north Belfast.

Police were enforcing a Parades Commission ban that said the marchers were not allowed a night-time return parade through the predominantly Irish republican and Catholic Adoyne district.

At least four police officers, one being stretchered away after being hit by a brick, and one civilian have been hurt. Violence continues.

This years Twelfth of July parades by the pro-British Protestant fraternal organization are often controversial, particularly when the pass though republican districts and the Parades Commission, a government body that regulates street protests and demonstrations, deemed the return parade was likely to be provocative and potentially violent.

This morning's parade through the district passed off without serious incident, but anti-Catholic songs such as "the Famine Song" were chanted.

The Orange Order invited members from across Belfast to defy the ruling tonight. Simmering resentment met sweltering heat as alcohol-fuelled youths confronted police barricades.

Local member of parliament for the hard line Democratic Unionist Party, Nigel Dodds, is on the scene and has blamed the conflagration on the decision to ban the march.

"The police were well aware that was the danger the Parades Commission had put them in. I would appeal for everybody to stay calm, not to get involved in violence," he said.

Gerry Kelly, an MP for Irish republican party blamed the Orange Order for the violence, saying speeches made today stirred-up discontent.

Reports are coming in of violence in other parts of the city. The trouble follows on the heels of a bad year for Northern Ireland. Several months of unionist protests brought the city to a standstill in late 2012 as early 2013 after the municipal council voted to stop flying the British Union flag daily on City Hall.

600 police have been drafted-in from Scotland in anticipation of violence.

The Twelfth of July is the central point of the so-called marching season when pro-British Protestant unionists commemorate the 1690 and 1691 defeat of the British Catholic king James by Protestant William of Orange. Battles were fought in Ireland, notably the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim.

The Orange Order, which celebrates these defeats, is central to Protestant identity in Ireland. Republicans and Catholics see the marches through their districts as sectarian coat-trailing. Despite the peace process, the marching season has been a continual locus of conflict on the streets.

Violence continues.

Back channel chatter

  1. belfast riot update: Ultra unionist lawmaker struck by brick thrown by unionist protesters. Hospitalised. Local deputy Orange Order chief spencer beattie also hospitalised. Unionists blaming police.

  2. unionists using ceremonial swords to attack police

  3. bonfire last night had a effigy of a priest swinging from a gallows. a priest hanged himself recently in belfast. lovely people those orangemen, all the same