24 February 2005 Edition

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New powers to ban 'hangers on' given cautious welcome

Sinn Féin has given a cautious welcome to new powers that will allow the Parades Commission to ban 'loyalist hangers on' from accompanying Orange Parades through contentious areas.

British Minister Ian Pearson announced the extension to existing parades legislation on Tuesday 22 February and said it will be in place by the end of March and would apply to parades and protests after 14 May.

The new legislation was first mooted in the wake of the controversy surrounding last year's Orange 12th Parade parade past Ardoyne in North Belfast.

Serious trouble erupted as residents fought pitched battles with the British Army and PSNI after the PSNI escorted supporters of the parade along the Crumlin past Ardoyne after the main parade had passed.

Identified UDA leaders were at the head of a crowd of drunken thugs, many of whom were carrying loyalist paramilitary flags and regalia.

Sinn Féin accused the PSNI of breaching a Parades Commission ruling that permitted only Orange lodge members and marshals to walk the return leg up the Crumlin Road.

However, the Parades Commission stood back from this, saying that the management of Orange supporters was outside its remit and was a matter for parade organisers and the PSNI.

The changes give the Parades Commission powers to enforce conditions on anyone "organising, taking part in or supporting marches as well as protesters".

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said he was pleased the new powers would take, "the decision making out of the hands of the PSNI" but criticised Pearson over his failure "to tackle the issue of the militarisation of nationalist areas in order to facilitate sectarian parades.

"As we saw last year in Ardoyne this issue of the PSNI forcing Orange Order supporters through nationalist areas has the potential to generate serious problems," said Kelly.

Meanwhile, members of the Ulster Defenders of the Realm Orange Lodge, who took part in an illegal parade past the nationalist Short Strand in East Belfast on Saturday 19 February, may be prosecuted.

The parade had not been sanctioned by the Parades Commission, as application forms submitted had been incomplete and unacceptable.

Nationalist residents accused the Orange Order of trying to by-pass the Parades Commission to force the PSNI to decide on the march, believing prosecution would be unlikely.

The lodge is mostly made up of former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and current members of the Royal Irish Regiment.

Sinn Féin Deputy Mayor of Belfast, Joe O'Donnell, has called for the illegal marchers to be rigorously pursued.

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