The comments came following Friday nights sectarian parade, organised by the South Down Defenders Flute Band, which involved thousands of Loyalists and at least 50 sectarian flute bands. There were further parades on both Saturday and Sunday along with PSNI harassment of the local éirígí spokesperson observing the marches.
Voicing the party’s opposition to sectarian marches, éirígí’s Newry representative Stephen Murney said “I was present to observe these coat-trailing exercises over the course of the weekend. Just a couple of weeks ago we raised serious concerns about the disruption that this weekend’s plethora of sectarian parades would bring to Newry.
“Our prediction was well founded and proven to be correct when Newry was brought to a standstill on Friday night. Heavily armed PSNI members launched a significant security operation to seal off and close roads in one of the main arterial areas of the town to facilitate the unwanted parade. This in turn caused severe disruption across Newry. Residents living along the route of the parade were literally prisoners in their own homes as dozens of sectarian bands and thousands of Loyalist bigots descended onto their streets for several hours. The disruption continued on both Saturday and Sunday”.
Furthermore Stephen explained how he was subjected to PSNI harassment whilst observing the parades “On Saturday evening I was present in the centre of Newry to observe one of these sectarian marches. As soon as I arrived at the Town Hall I was apprehended and singled out by two members of the state forces, one of whom is notorious for harassing local republicans. They proceeded to stop me using so-called “anti-terror” legislation and the draconian Justice and Security Act. I had my details and movements recorded before being spread-eagled and searched for firearms and ammunition. Following that they radioed for back up and I found myself surrounded by no less than six heavily armed members of the PSNI. On handing me the stop and search card one of them quipped “you have enough of those cards by now to know what to do with them Stephen”. This was a clear reference to the intense campaign of PSNI harassment I have been subjected to over the past few years. The whole ordeal lasted 25 minutes and I have logged the details of the incident with my legal representatives and leading human rights group The Committee on the Administration of Justice [CAJ].
“The centre of Newry resembled a ghost town with the normally busy streets deserted and empty.
“This should have been a busy bank holiday weekend for locals and visitors alike. The last thing anyone, either from Newry or elsewhere, would want to see is heavily armed PSNI members in armoured landrovers sealing half the town off to facilitate a weekend of sectarianism.
Highlighting the number of sectarian marches in the Newry area Stephen concluded “The fact that there are at least seventeen Loyalist/Unionist parades in Newry each year is startling to say the least, and this figure doesn't even include return legs of the parades. These parades are unwelcome and it’s about time they were re-routed away from areas in which they are unwanted.”