The bank holiday weekend began on Friday evening with a show of strength hosted by the South Down Defenders flute band, with over a score of other unionist bands along with three thousand of their supporters taking over the streets of Newry.
Coupled with an accompanying and domineering major PSNI operation, many local people were simply unable to venture into the city centre. Those local people who had no choice but to travel around Newry, either by car or on foot, found themselves delayed or intimidated not only by unionist bands but also by the menacing behaviour of heavily armed members of the Six-County police force.
Saturday and Sunday proved to be no different with several more sectarian marches taking place alongside the accompanying clamp-down of nationalist residents of Newry by the PSNI.
Voicing the socialist republican party’s opposition to such sectarian shows of strength, éirígí’s Stephen Murney said, “After being contacted by local residents and several shop-owners in the town, our party activists and supporters were present for each of these marches. Local nationalists found themselves targeted by the PSNI’s Tactical Support Group for simply observing the march.
“éirígí party members were verbally abused and threatened with arrest by PSNI personnel in full view of members of the public.
“At the same time, a constitutional nationalist MLA, also observing the marches and performing the same role just a few feet away from éirígí party members, was allowed to do so unhindered by the same PSNI personnel.”
Murney added, “We are often told by the main unionist parties’ PR machines that these marches bring an economic benefit to the towns in which they are held.
“Perhaps, shop-owners in Newry should tell those unionist apologists just how little these marches actually added to the economy of Newry over the last weekend of August.
“It is obvious to all citizens in Newry that the presence of these sectarian marches actually kills off trade rather than enhancing it.”
Murney continued, “It’s also obvious that unionists will use any excuse to indulge in sectarian coat trailing exercises in Newry. They march to catch buses to another town, then they march after getting off buses from other towns; they march going to a church and then march coming back from a church. They also march for no reason at all other than sheer sectarianism.
“Newry has had enough of these sectarian displays. These marches only cause, rather than heal, division.
“In July of this year, the convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council described the Orange Order and its off-shoots as being ‘out of time and out of place’ in modern society.
“Perhaps, it’s time that others within the nationalist community and, indeed, the protestant community in Newry also stood up just as courageously to send out the same message. Such marches are, indeed, out of time and out of place in Newry.”