LOYALIST band parade marshals have accused the PSNI of “blatant discrimination” over their handling of a band parade in Coleraine on Friday night.
Chief Marshal for the Freeman parade, Richard Hodges, claimed that a number of young nationalists had gathered at the Cloth Workers Building in Coleraine’s Waterside before the parade and shouted “sectarian abuse” at participants and spectators.
“Only two community PSNI officers were present with this group,” claimed Mr Hodges.
“The two officers were conversing with them and seemed totally at ease with these youths. However, this was in sharp contrast to the way the PSNI reacted when a group of young Loyalist spectators turned up to watch the parade in the Waterside along the Bann Bridge.
“A PSNI Community Sergeant immediately asked marshals to move them away from this area, despite there being no determination or restrictions being made by the Parades Commission regarding the parade.
“When they remained, a number of police officers from the Tactical Support Group were deployed and positioned in through and behind this group. They made no effort to converse with the young persons. This was a deliberate attempt by the police to intimidate this group of youths into moving away from this area.
“They certainly weren’t there to befriend them or give them hugs like the community officers were doing with the youths from the Nationalist community.
“Some of the 14 marshals who were present in this area spoke to the parade supporters who were also incensed by the PSNI’s approach towards these youths.
“The marshals understand a balance must be struck between facilitating the parade and traffic flow and they have been working hard to make this possible for the whole community. There are serious health and safety concerns as to the safety of the parade participants and these are being totally neglected by the PSNI,” claimed Mr Hodges.
“These concerns were raised after the same parade last year with Chief Superintendent Goddard and Inspector Magee and the PSNI were to put in place diversions, but they have done a complete U turn. “
George Duddy, who was also marshalling the parade, said: “Most of these young persons are known to the marshals and live within the Greenmount and Heights area, a short distance away. The young persons have told me this type of reaction from the PSNI is not unusual when they turn up to watch the parades and at most parades the police prevent us from crossing the Bridge.
“Even after the parade they stated they were not permitted to walk home by their usual route but they were diverted along the Strand Road. It is understandable why the youth within the Loyalist community in the Coleraine area have lost faith with the PSNI and in particular the Greenmount and Heights area.
“The PSNI supervisors on duty at the parade were not upholding the young Loyalists’ human rights, in particular their right to freedom of assembly and they were not acting ‘fairly or impartially’ in their dealings with young people from the loyalist community.
“It was clearly evident that the PSNI Commander in Coleraine has not listened to or taken into consideration any of the concerns which have been raised with him over the past two years regarding parades.”
The Coleraine Times contacted the PSNI for a response yesterday morning (Monday).
A spokesman said: “Police in Coleraine remain committed to working with all sections of the community regarding parading issues.
“Much progress has been made thanks to the efforts of all sides, but we recognise that there is still work to do.
“The safety of the public, parade participants and officers is our paramount concern and we will continue to work with groups, bands and all sides of the community to make parades a safer experience for everyone.
“Anyone who is unhappy with police actions should contact the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.”