Northern Ireland news

Orange Order in Belfast 'reviewing engagement with PSNI' over Bobby Storey funeral

Marshalled by PSNI officers, an Orange Order parade passes off peacefully through Ardoyne in north Belfast

THE Orange Order in Belfast is "reviewing" engagement with the PSNI ahead of the July marching season, amid the fallout from veteran IRA man Bobby Storey's funeral.

The declaration by Belfast County Grand Lodge follows a decision not to prosecute any Sinn Féin members after more than 1,500 mourners - including Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill - gathered at various locations in west Belfast last June.

Prosecutors are reviewing their decision, having announced on Tuesday changes to Covid restrictions up until hours before the funeral and organisers' discussions with police made the chances of a successful court case unlikely.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland branded the funeral "effectively an orchestrated republican show of strength", an event which "more than any other, undermined"public confidence in coronavirus restrictions.

It said the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) decision "signals that republicans are above the law... they themselves had played a central role in laying down for others to follow and obey", adding it "greatly undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system".

The Orange Order expressed "great concern" at the details of consultation between organisers and the PSNI before the funeral, "particularly as that interaction has seemingly helped those, who so clearly breached Covid-19 regulations, avoid prosecution".

It contrasted it to its own experience of PPS decisions "not to prosecute those who have carried out hate crimes against our organisation - even when clear evidence was available".

"Every family who suffered loss, but obeyed the rules are the victims of this reckless law breaking by the Republican Movement. They have been further let down by a discredited justice system."

However, the Belfast Grand Lodge went further, questioning why the PSNI only recommended 24 people for prosecution when there were "thousands" of attendees with "video footage in which everyone can be clearly identified".

"As a county (lodge)we have engaged with the PSNI, yet that didn't stop prosecutions, which resulted from serious police mistakes; for republicans, engaging with the PSNI is now a mitigation against prosecution," it said.

"The PPS excuse that the law was confusing, is unbelievable in that some of the accused were involved in making those same laws.

"Belfast County Grand Lodge, over the coming period will review their engagement with the PSNI, taking account of how they and the PPS rectify this unacceptable two-tier approach that appears to continually favour republicanism."

The development comes just three months before the start of the loyalist marching season, a historically contentious period in Belfast which has been largely peaceful in recent years.

Last year the organisation agreed to suspend its parades in a bid to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

The Orange Order has already withdrawn from involvement in the Shared Island Unit in anger over the Northern Ireland Protocol which has created a border in the Irish Sea, warning north-south relations are on the brink of falling into a "downward spiral".

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