Nationalist residents in the county Fermanagh village of Newtownbutler have expressed anger and outrage after a unionist band parade involving up to 1,000 participants and supporters was given the go-ahead to strut through the area without any restrictions this evening [Friday].
Residents in the predominantly nationalist village had expressed their opposition to the planned march and had formally asked the Parades Commission to impose restrictions on the highly contentious event, which will see bands and their supporters bussed into Fermanagh from across the Six Counties. Residents had also announced their intention to hold a peaceful protest tomorrow evening to demonstrate local opposition to the sectarian invasion of their community.
However, in an inexplicable decision announced on June 23, the Parades Commission gave the go ahead for the unionist march, refusing to impose any conditions relating to time, place or manner on the march. At the same time, the Commission imposed severe conditions on the residents’ protest, restricting the numbers taking part to less than 100 and preventing the protest from assembling on or near the route of the march.
Kevin Martin, cathaoirleach of éirígí’s Fermanagh ciorcal, said: “Putting the impact of this march in its proper setting, during the most recent census in 2001, Newtownbutler was found to have a population of 943, of whom over 90 per cent would be viewed as from a Catholic/nationalist background.
“Friday night’s march will see up to 20 bands and hundreds of their supporters bussed into the village from around the Six Counties to virtually take over the entire area, which is comprised of just over 350 homes, for several hours. Added to that, it is likely that hundreds of heavily armed PSNI officers will also descend on the village to ensure that this patently obvious coat-trailing exercise goes ahead unimpeded.”
Martin continued: “Obviously ignoring its own decision-making criteria, it is apparent that the Parades Commission opted not to consider the massive negative impact this march would have on the Newtownbutler community, nor does it appear that the Commission took into consideration, as it obliged to do, the European Convention rights of those men, women and children who reside, work, shop or trade in the village.
“The Commission also clearly ignored the fact that the large scale PSNI operation which this outrageous decision will entail will inevitably cause additional and completely unnecessary disruption and harassment to the local community with even further infringements of the rights of local residents.”
At a well attended public meeting on Monday night [June 28], residents reaffirmed their opposition to the parade and their determination to go ahead with their own protest. Residents also announced their intention to challenge the Parades Commission’s ruling by launching a legal action aimed at securing a judicial review. The action was due to be heard in the Belfast High Court today [Thursday].
Martin added: “It is difficult to explain the huge sense of outrage, humiliation, fear and terror which this sectarian incursion will bring onto the streets and into the community of Newtownbutler. There can be no logical decision for this march to proceed other than to reinforce the age-old message of ‘Croppy, lie down’.”