Loyalists flout parading rules in march glorifying UDA killers
LOYALISTS flouted parading rules last night as they marched through south Belfast in honour of notorious UDA members linked to scores of sectarian murders during the Troubles.
Hundreds took part in the march through the mixed Ormeau Road area, 21 years since the deaths of Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder.
The UDA men were linked to scores of Troubles killings including a 1992 gun attack on a Belfast bookmakers in which five Catholics were killed.
The Parades Commission had warned participants against using paramilitary regalia in the commemoration, which caused outrage when it was first held last year.
But UFF flags and flags showing pictures of the UDA and the organisation's crest were erected on lamp posts along the parade route.
At least one band, Bangor's North Down Defenders, displayed a floral tribute to the UDA during the contentious march.
Bandsmen and supporters gathered during the procession to place floral tributes beside a memorial covered in paramilitary flags.
The £11,000 memorial, funded by the Housing Executive, caused controversy during the parade last year after it was used to honour UDA men including Bratty and Elder.
A temporary plaque with their names was fixed to the monument near Annadale Flats while UDA and UFF flags were flown from lamp posts.
The plaque was again this year temporarily placed on the memorial at Annadale Flats at the end of Candahar Street before later being removed.
Turnout for the march was significantly lower than the expectations of organisers amid showery conditions.
Around 10 bands marched along part of the Ormeau Road before parading through quiet residential side streets while thumping huge drums.
Clusters of supporters sheltered from the rain beneath Union flag umbrellas as they lined the street to watch the parade.
Organisers had expected up to 1,600 people and 35 bands to take part in the event, which began shortly after 7.30pm.
Some participants held aloft floral displays with small handwritten messages and wreaths made of poppies.
The Parades Commission gave the go-ahead to this year's march without significant restrictions despite uproar from residents over last year's paramilitary commemoration.
Assembly members in recent days have condemned the parade and questioned the parades body's ruling.
The march was organised by the Annadale Heritage and Cultural Society.
In its ruling ahead of the march, the Parades Commission said it received a "significant number of complaints" from residents last year.
The use of paramilitary trappings and participants acting in an intimidatory manner towards residents were among the issues raised.
"The commission has cause to believe that should the parade process without conditions, there will be an adverse effect on community relations," the parades body said.
However, the Parades Commission did not restrict the route or bands taking part, instead reiterating general requirements for participants on issues such as behaviour and attire.
The Housing Executive has said it is "extremely disappointed" that its monument, which was intended as a First World War memorial as part of a 're-imaging' scheme, has become associated with loyalist paramilitary parades.
However, it has dismissed calls to remove the memorial amid fears that it is becoming the centrepiece of an annual UDA commemoration.
The controversial parade comes just weeks after the PSNI was accused of a U-turn on its flags policy in the Ormeau Road area.
Police last summer said in future the flying of loyalist flags in the mixed community would be treated as a "breach of the peace".
Bratty and Elder were shot dead by the Provisional IRA on the Ormeau Road on July 31 1994.
The notorious loyalist paramilitaries were widely believed to have been involved in the brutal murder of five Catholics at Sean Graham bookmakers on Ormeau Road in 1992.
Just weeks ago a senior UDA member said to have been involved in organising the 1992 gun attack was killed.
Colin 'Bap' Lindsay (47) was one of two men who died after a sword attack at Kirkistown Walk in the Belvoir estate on July 8.