Northern Ireland

Seven police officers injured in Belfast parade disturbances

Seven police officers have been injured during a contentious loyal order parade in Belfast city centre.

The trouble broke out after a number of bands defied rulings made by the Parades Commission.

The restrictions were put in place after a loyalist band was filmed playing a contentious song outside a Catholic church in July.

Other bands, which were restricted to playing a single drum beat, also breached the ruling.

One officer was taken to hospital, but none have been seriously injured.

The return leg of the parade on Saturday evening passed off largely peacefully.

The Parades Commission had barred the Young Conway Volunteers band from marching past St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street.

It made the ruling after the Shankill Road-based band was filmed walking in circles outside the same church while playing a contentious song on 12 July.

At the time, the Young Conway Volunteers said it was "pure chance" that they had come to a halt there and insisted they were not playing the Famine Song, an anti-Irish song that originated in Glasgow.

On Saturday, the bands returned to the area to take part in a Royal Black Institution parade.

A number of protesters were separated from the march by a large police presence - including many officers dressed in riot gear.

There was a loud cheer from a crowd of supporters during the outgoing leg of the parade, as the first band walked past playing a regimental army march.

The trouble broke out as the last of the bands marched past the church.

Image caption The parade passed by a Catholic Church in north Belfast

A spokesperson for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said officers came under attack by people throwing stones and bottles.

A policewoman was treated for minor head injuries but has since been released from hospital.

The Parades Commission said any breach of the determination would be a matter for the police to investigate and they may refer it to the Public Prosecution Service.

The officer in charge of the operation, Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones, said it was the PSNI's assessment that "there have been breaches of the Parades Commission determination on both the outgoing and return legs of the parade".

ACC Jones added: "I can assure the public that people will be held to account for their actions today and using the evidence we have gathered, breaches of the Parades Commission determination will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.

"I will allocate additional resources to the investigative team to ensure their work can be actioned immediately," the officer said.

The Royal Black Institution held parades at six locations across Northern Ireland on Saturday.

About 17,000 members took part in Belfast, Larne, Ballynahinch, Portrush, Cookstown and Plumbridge.

The City of Belfast Grand Black Chapter demonstration was held in the city for the first time.

Image caption A number of protesters were separated from the march by a large police presence

This year, it marked the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Convenant.

About 63 preceptories were on parade in the city, including 2,300 members of the institution. They were accompanied by 33 bands.

Restrictions were also imposed on music being played during the feeder parade past the Ardoyne shops and past Catherine Court off the Shore Road.

A number of residents' associations were granted permission to hold protests at the parades.

The Royal Black Institution in Belfast had criticised the Parades Commission's rulings ahead of Saturday's event.

In a statement, it said: "The time has long past when the commission should be confined to the dustbin of history.

"They are parasites living on the misery their determinations bring to communities as they propagate cultural apartheid and exercise a Stalinist-like desire to control and dictate cultural expression."

The Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective, which opposes parading by loyal orders along a contentious stretch of the Crumlin Road, at Ardoyne shops, also criticised the commission.

In a statement, it said: "These contentious marches only serve to poison community relations and further alienate and polarise our peoples, and all just to pander to the will of a few bigots who use culture as an excuse to mask and impose their outdated and obsolete triumphalism upon our community."

The statement said the march was not welcome on the stretch of road past Ardoyne shops and an alternative route should be used.

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