Police criticised over Garvaghy gathering
THE PSNI has been criticised over claims officers allowed Orangemen to gather at a controversial loyalist arch in Portadown on July 12.
Nationalist residents say that officers looked on as a number of men, some wearing Orange collarettes, gathered close to the arch on the lower end of the Garvaghy Road before 7.30am on Saturday.
A PSNI spokesman last night said it is investigating the claims and is carrying out a "review" of its actions.
There was controversy last month when the Parades Commission gave loyalists permission to march along the route - referred to as 'Victoria Terrace' by unionists but marked on ordnance survey maps as the Garvaghy Road - for the first time in almost 20 years for the "dedication and unfurling" of the refurbished arch.
However, the commission subsequently did a U-turn after residents and politicians objected.
Orangemen have been banned from marching on the nationalist Garvaghy Road since 1998 at the height of the Drumcree crisis.
Residents spokesman Breandan MacCionnaith said police have had an almost "permanent presence" in the area since the arch was put up.
"Despite that almost permanent presence and repeat Parades Commission determinations which clearly prohibit members of the Orange Order from entering any part of the Garvaghy Road, it is patently obvious that the PSNI in Portadown clearly chose to facilitate this gathering early on Saturday morning," he said.
"It would appear that the PSNI in Portadown is openly operating a policy of appeasement towards unionism and Orangeism and is also acting in total contravention of its legal obligations to uphold and enforce rulings of the Parades Commission."
The latest controversy comes after it was claimed that police officers looked on as a Union flag was put up in the grounds of a Catholic church in Dervock, Co Antrim.
Sinn Fein Upper Bann assembly member John O'Dowd said the latest incident was a "clear breach of a Parades Commissions determination" and voiced concerns about the conduct of the police.
"There are also questions for the PSNI who when contacted by Sinn Fein claimed that local people were mistaken and that the Orange didn't gather at the arch.
"We have since supplied the PSNI with the photograph and a statement which appears to be from the arch committee.
"I will be seeking a full explanation from police as to why they claimed to unaware of this illegal assembly.
"If I am not satisfied with their response I will hand the matter over to the Police Ombudsman."
A spokesman for the PSNI said it is investigating the allegations.
"The Police Service understands clearly that its actions are always a matter of public scrutiny and a review of those actions is also under-way," he said.
"As this matter is at a relatively early stage it would be inappropriate to offer further detailed comment at this time."
* CONTROVERSY: Above, a gathering of Orangemen and supporters at a controversial loyalist arch in Portadown on July 12. Top, residents association leaders Joe Duffy and Brendan McKenna on the Garvaghy Road in the town last night MAIN PICTURE: Cliff Donaldson