"GARC is a non-political residents' group that is there to serve and give a voice to all the people of Ardoyne, Mountainview and the Dales in opposing unwanted, bigoted sectarian parades through our community by the Loyal Orders. GARC is committed to peaceful, radical action in order to bring an end to triumphalist parades that are open manisfestations of sectarianism and that result in massive disruption to the lives of people in this community, the militarisation and criminalisation of our community."
On July 12th 2010, GARC staged a dignified sitdown protest against the evening parade by the Orange Order through Greater Ardoyne, exercising our right to protest under the European Convention of Human Rights. The sectarian march was permitted by the discredited Parades Commission, despite the fact that the North and West Belfast Parades Forum (who represent the Loyal Orders) had refused to even discuss their position with the Commission for a significant period of time. This was despite the stated position that the Commission will look favourably on those who 'engage in dialogue.' In comparison, GARC had engaged with the Parades Commission's then Secretary, Ronnie Pedlow and other Commissioners' in Holy Cross Monastery prior to the march. We gave the Commision our and our community's position, which we represented. 'That there NO acceptable Loyal Order parade through the Greater Ardoyne community'. A fact reinforced by an independent survey, where 90% of respondents stated that this was the case.
The sitdown protest of 2010 was forcibly removed by the heavily-armed RUC/PSNI, using fists, batons and sheer force. This was to facilitate a totally unacceptable parade by sectarian Orangemen and their drunk and drugged fuelled followers, many of who had openly admitted on various Social Networks that they had not slept the night before using cocaine and methadrone, so they could taunt Ardoyne residents, before getting taxis back down to the Shankill and other Loyalist areas of the city.
Six months afterwards, almost 30 residents and supporters of GARC received summons informing them that they were to face charges brought by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) namely, 'Illegally obstructing traffic, and/or a legal procession by sitting, standing, or kneeling or other'. These summons were signed half an hour before the six months time limit on issuing such charges had ran out. Two local residents had previously been 'convicted' for their part in the July protest. The trial of the larger number began at the end of October with a 'deal' being offered by the PPS at Laganside Courts. We were told that if we pleaded guilty to, 'not notifying the Parades Commission of our intention to protest', we could go home there and then with a caution. However, as a Collective, each and every one of us rejected the offer. Our position remained that we were right to protest and that we did not have to ask anyone for 'permission' to do so, as is a fundemental human right.
Any members of the public and press who attended the trial will have been shocked at how farcical proceedings were. Time after time, the same videoes were played, with little in the way of identification evidence, except for the testimony of RUC/PSNI members, NONE of who were even present at the sitdown protest. We also had the recently retired Secretary of the Parades Commission, Ronnie Pedlow telling the Court that he did not know of GARC's existence, in spite of the fact that we met with him prior to the protest at Holy Cross. In addition to this, he was unable to say what occurred during the protest all the Parades Commissioners had been pulled out off Ardoyne for their own safety and that, he and the others watched events unfold from the RUC/PSNI Control Rooms inside Castlereagh via their cameras. So much for impartial observers.
The RUC/PSNI man in charge of 'policing' the parade, Chief Inspector, Alan Freeburn also made some astounding statements to the Court. Asked by Defence Barristers, 'how he could be sure that this was not the residents protest which the Parades Commission had 'permitted'. He stated, 'that members of CARA and other Community and Political Representatives had phoned him from a local Club, where they had been enjoying a buffet at the time and asked that the RUC/PSNI Riot-Squad remove the sitdown protesters as soon as possible so that CARA could have their roadside poster-holding protest'. He also said that, 'without the help of local Community and Political Reps, it would have been impossible to identify and bring charges against those involved in the sitdown protest'.
On December 22 2011, 26 GARC Activists and Supporters were found 'Guilty' with 9 also 'convicted' of resisting arrest. Three others were found 'not guilty' , while another was acquitted because a RUC/PSNI woman had, 'misled the Court about she had got her evidence'. Those 'convicted' of obstruction were fined £400.00 with another £200.00 added to the amount for those found guilty of resisting arrest. The vast majority have since filed for appeals of these unfair convictions on the basis that punishing them for peacefully protesting is an infringement of their civil and human rights.
However, this has to be viewed by the Greater Ardoyne community and others as part of a wider picture. This has again highlighted the fact that as Nationalists and/or Republicans, we are seen by the State, RUC/PSNI, PPS and Court Service as second-class citizens who should not be afforded the same rights to protest as Loyalists and Unionists. Since July 12 2010, Loyalists have been involved in a number of illegal protests and rallies. Most notably on the 16, 17 and 18th July 2010 at the ASDA Superstore on the Shore Road to have UVF man, Billy Hunter reinstated after making sectarian remarks to a fellow worker. They also marched illegally to the City Hall in support of the British Armed Forces, where they were addressed by elected Unionist Representatives. Locally on June 16 2011, known UVF men led a protest march to block the Twaddell/Woodvale Road junction angry at the Parades Commission decision to re-route the following night's 'Tour of the North' parade. Most recently, on the 1st and 5th December 2011, masked Loyalist Thugs blocked the road behind the City Hall and shouted death threats against Sinn Fein Councillors and Council Staff. Not one of the those involved in the above protests have faced any charges - Political Policing yet again.
GARC will continue to oppose Loyal Order parades through our community in a peaceful and radical way, the Greater Ardoyne area has quite clearly stated that there is NO such thing as an acceptable Loyal Order march through our area and we exist to give the majority of residents an option to resist them in a dignified and constructive manner, regardless of the efforts of the RUC/PSNI and others to criminalise our proud and resolute community.