Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

N. Ireland on Guard for Clashes ; Police Chief Calls on Units from Abroad for Start of Annual Marching Season

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

N. Ireland on Guard for Clashes ; Police Chief Calls on Units from Abroad for Start of Annual Marching Season

Article excerpt

The police chief has drafted 630 reinforcements from Scotland, Wales and England amid fears of sectarian rioting as Protestants are set to display their continued opposition to Irish nationalist aspirations.

Prompted by mounting fears over the prospect of widespread sectarian rioting this weekend, the Northern Ireland police chief has taken the unusual step of drafting in hundreds of reinforcements from Scotland, Wales and England to help local officers.

It is the first time since the British Army withdrew from the streets in July 2007 that the authorities have turned to outsiders for policing help.

This weekend marks the high point in the Orange Order calendar, during which hundreds of thousands of Protestants take to the streets to celebrate historic victories and to display their continued opposition to Irish nationalist aspirations.

All too often, the so-called marching season has sparked violent confrontations, particularly when the marchers, accompanied by flute bands playing martial tunes, insist on parading through nationalist areas, where their actions are considered triumphalist.

Announcing the drafting of 630 reinforcements, the police chief, Matt Baggott, branded it "a unique year" based on the sheer volume of marches expected to take place on Friday alone, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which cemented Protestant rule in Ireland for centuries.

"If you look at the scale -- 550 parades, we have 43 that are sensitive -- it would be remiss of me not to plan for every eventuality," he said. "This particular year I thought it was wise and the right thing to do to bring people over." The 30 units comprising 630 reinforcements have been trained in anti-riot tactics and most were previously deployed in the British province last month to deter unlawful protests during the G-8 summit meeting in County Fermanagh.

The Orange Order argues that the marching routes are traditional, and that any restriction is an infringement on their civil liberties as British citizens. The Parades Commission, an independent body formed in 1997 with a brief to arbitrate on divisive routes, has faced a near impossible task as every ruling lauded by one side is invariably condemned by the other. …

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