The Parades Commission has given the go-ahead for a major loyalist protest in Belfast city centre on one of the busiest Saturdays in the run-up to Christmas.
Restrictions have been imposed on the event, which has been organised by a group under the name ‘Loyal Peaceful Protesters’.
The application is for 10,000 people and 40 bands to take part in the demonstration to mark one year since the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.
According to the parades watchdog, it has taken into consideration representations made by traders and from within the hospitality and tourism industries regarding the possible disruption to business.
It has also considered concerns from Sinn Féin regarding the potential conduct of participants, and concerns from unionist leaders regarding the impact on the city centre.
But the Parades Commission has ruled that the rally can go ahead.
The Commission has been informed that this date is traditionally the busiest trading day of the year and is crucial to help the survival of the already hard-pressed city centre traders.
The watchdog said: “In the absence of an understanding in respect of this parade, the Commission has come to the conclusion that, should the parade process without restriction, there will be an adverse effect on already fragile community relations, negative impact on community life, and potential for public disorder.”
While no restrictions have been placed on the numbers involved, the determination requires the event to be held at a different time than requested.
Organisers wanted it to start at Belfast City Hall at 1pm, culminating at Tennent Street at 4pm.
But the parade must leave City Hall no later than noon and have passed the Royal Avenue/North Street junction by 12.30pm.
Among the other restrictions imposed – only notified bands may take part and they must clearly display their names.
Adequate stewarding must be provided and “respectful behaviour” must be maintained at all times, while no paramilitary trappings may be displayed.
The organisers of the protest stated in their application to the Parades Commission that the purpose of the rally was “human rights, political policing, PSNI brutality”.
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