PSNI contacting marching bands and Orange lodges ‘across NI’ to assess ‘mood’ and parading plans

The PSNI is contacting marching bands and Orange lodges right across Northern Ireland to assess their political mood and parading plans, it is reported.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 6:25 am
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 9:06 am
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson is urging people to think twice about who is organising protests they are going to attend.

Yesterday the News Letter reported that the PSNI has been contacting bands across south Down to ask about their current political mood and their parading plans for the summer.

The news comes in the wake of recent street violence in loyalist areas, reportedly linked to the Irish Sea customs border and police handling of the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey.

But since then leading bands activist Quincy Dougan told the News Letter that police had been carrying out such enquiries right across NI.

Committee chairman Simon Hoare MP said the committee would fight on for the victims.

“Bands from all genres, not just flute bands, have been contacted by phone or physically right across the entire Province from Enniskillen to Limavady to Bushmills, with a particularly large number approached in the Armagh and Mid/South Down areas,” he said. “In an even more unprecedented arbitrary move, representatives from Orange Lodges have also been approached.

“This is an unparalleled action from the PSNI, that as the membership of the various organisation concerned are hearing, is quickly turning into a palatable anger. This moves beyond the realm of community policing into something more sinister, and at least superficially appears to have been the result of instructions from the top tier of the PSNI.”

He asked what other groups and movements in Northern Ireland have experienced their communal leaders being personally contacted by police in such a manner.

Downshire Guiding Star Flute Band and Kinallen Flute Band also said the PSNI had arrived unannounced at people’s homes to ask questions.

A spokesman for the Loyalist Communities Council said yesterday that it has asked for the suspension of protests until after the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

“The PSNI has a duty to declare if it is making similar contacts with Republican bands and organisations, and if not, to explain why” he told the News Letter.

Meanwhile, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson has appealed for loyalists to beware anonymous calls to protest on social media.

Speaking to the News Letter, the former UVF leader and PUP Councillor for the Greater Shankill Area said: “I am seeing calls to protest on social media but the organiser’s name is not on it.”

He added: “What I am saying to people is that could be put up by anybody, so you could be walking into a trap. Please be careful.”

Mr Hutchinson said he was aware of the social media posts from ‘United Unionist of Ulster’ which cited ‘a plan for the people’ - “but again we don’t know who is organising this and if it is genuine”.

Everyone has the right to protest but they also have a responsibility about how they do it, he said.

He added: “It should be organised from within their own community and it has to be managed.”

The protests he sees being organised are from people “who are not interested in what happens to people when they get there”. The councillor urged protest organisers to talk to police in advance about their plans.

DUP Policing Board member Mervyn Storey said and his party leader Arlene Foster spoke with the Chief Constable last week about police contacting marching bands to assess their political mood and parading plans.

“It remains unclear as to the strategy adopted by the police,” he said. “The senior command should publicly give an explanation. We will always defend the right to protest. All protests should be peaceful and lawful.

“The United Kingdom is mourning the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, I concur with others in urging everyone to respect the loss being felt by the Queen and the Royal Family.”

A PSNI spokesperson said: “We would like to reassure band representatives that there is no underhand motive to neighbourhood police officers’ recent engagement with them.

“We have listened to recent criticism that, in some places, we are not hearing the concerns voiced by local communities.

“We are very conscious of the need to plan cooperatively for the upcoming summer parading season, as has been our approach over many years.

“Our intention and sincere desire is to re-establish good links with parade organisers at a local and regional level, as we begin to emerge from Covid lockdown.”

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