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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Gardai — how many bands do you need

(by Liam Clarke and John Mooney, Sunday Times)

Gardai are prepared to allow Love Ulster marchers down O'Connell Street in Dublin accompanied by Orange bands, despite last year's riot at the same event.

Organisers of the parade, who want it to become an annual event, have been warned that a huge security operation will be required to ensure their safety in central Dublin. Gardai have asked them to consider holding it outside peak shopping hours.

"We have not agreed to a date for the march but in principle we are not opposed to anyone organising a march through central Dublin," a senior garda source said yesterday (Saturday). "People have a right to hold marches in the city centre and the force respects that right.

"We have made no arrangements as yet, because nothing has been agreed, but we will police any such march if it happens."

William Frazer of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), the organisers of the parade, confirmed that no date or time has been selected but he believes the parade will take place on a Saturday in August or September. If it passes off peacefully, he wants an Orange march through Dublin each year.

"Gardai have asked us to consider how many bands we need," Frazer said. FAIR is also considering other proposals to lessen the likelihood of confrontation and the need for high security. "We don't want a situation where we have two guards for every person on the parade," he said.

In February 2006, a Love Ulster parade had to be abandoned due to hours of rioting in Dublin city centre. About 1,000 people attacked police with bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs. Cars were set alight and several gardai were injured. More than 40 people were arrested for looting, rioting and public-order offences.

Relatively few gardai were on duty and an unsecured building site on O'Connell Street provided easy ammunition for rioters. This time the force would regard the march as a test of its authority. They would saturate the area with hundreds of officers, with air-support units. Plain-clothes gardai would mingle with counter-protestors.

Frazer, who met senior gardai last week, said: "The guards are telling us, 'You can have this parade, we will police it and we will make sure that you get down O'Connell Street, but it is going to take a big operation to do it'.

"Personally, I would go ahead but some people think that if it means police are lined up both sides and hemming us in, it would be better not to go."

Frazer will hold a series of consultation meetings over the next fortnight: "There have been a few things put to us I have to put to the other people involved."

Gardai have asked him to consider whether seven bands, the number last year, are really needed. Another option is holding the march earlier in the morning or in the evening.

Last year, DUP and Ulster Unionist politicians attended the event but they are not being invited this time. "A lot of people feel that they have been let down by politicians," Frazer said.

"I find it very offensive to see Martin McGuinness sitting beside Ian Paisley and the two of them laughing like hyenas. If Paisley had done this back in the 1970s a lot of our loved ones would have been alive. That is hitting hard with a lot of people."

DUP sources say that, if asked, they will advise Love Ulster to call off the march. "We think it's crazy," a senior source said. "Given that the Shinners got duffed in the Irish election the last thing you want is to go down there and make Prods look like they are trying to stir up trouble.

"There must be other ways of getting their message across. We would facilitate meetings if they want to lobby politicians."

Frazer also wants a meeting with Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach. He is unhappy that Irish government aid to Northern Ireland is going to former paramilitaries, both republican and loyalist, instead of to victims' groups such as FAIR. He also wants to discuss with Ahern the allegation that gardai colluded with the IRA in the 1970s.

June 26, 2007

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on June 24, 2007.