This morning the Ligoniel Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys of Derry walked down the Crumlin Road towards the city centre before heading off to the main demonstration in Londonderry. It is a small parade of just one club and one band and only takes a few minutes to pass the shop fronts on the Crumlin Road.
They were accompanied today by the Blue Star Accordion Band, whose members are mainly women and children, and which takes part in many community and cross-community events. They perform in old people' homes and their music is enjoyed by Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. They teach children to play the accordion and they provide the music every year at the annual commemoration service for the three Scottish soldiers who were murdered by the IRA.
In spite of that the Parades Commission refused to allow the members of the Blue Star to walk down the Crumlin Road beyond Hesketh. It wasn't simply that there were restrictions on their music, or aeven ban on music but the band members were actaully prohibited from walking down the road with the Apprentice Boys. We don't know why, because the Parades Commission does not have to explain itself and does not explain itself. In any other cour a judge has to give has to give a full and coherent explanation of his decision but not the 'cultural commissars' of the Parades Commission.
That is why earlier in the week I described this determination as 'inconsistent and incoherent'. On previous occasions this band has been allowed to walk down and their behaviour has been impeccable yet this time they were banned, with no explanation and no justification.
Meanwhile the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA), which has links to Sinn Fein, and the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), which is a dissident republican goup, applied for protests against the parade. GARC applied for 300 protestors, in spite of the fact that the membership of the club and band would be no more than 60 people. In the end the Parades Commission permitted 60 CARA protestors, who were allowed to stand on both sides of the road, and 60 GARC protestors, who were further down on the Ardoyne side of the road.
There was a substantial police presence and that was understandable because of the appalling republican violence at Ardoyne on 12 July, which lasted for many hours and included the attempted murder of policemen.
However the GARC protest turned into something of a shambles. Having applied for 300 protestors and been permitted to have 60, they couldn't even muster the 60 and in fact there were less than 40. This must have been a real embarassment for Martin Og Meehan and his friends in the Republican Network for Unity and other little dissident factions in Ardoyne.
The Apprentice Boys walked down the Crumlin Road from Hesketh to Woodvale in a dignified, respectful manner, as they always do, and they walked in silence, with no band and no music.
After they had gone the GARC protestors started to disperse and as Meehan walked down he shouted across the road to me. I heard him shout out my name but couldn't hear the rest of what he said.
Then shortly after that Meehan and several others became embroiled in altercations with the police and they were arrested and taken away. We will wait now to hear what comes of this.
The Parades Commission had their secretary there as well as several of their officers and they would have seen what happened. So what will their reaction be to such behaviour by leading members of GARC? What influence will it have on their determination for the Royal Black Preceptory parade on the last Saturday of the month?
And the media, what coverage will they give to the arrest of these dissident republicans? What will the BBC say about it? What will the Irish News and the Belfast Telegraph say about it?
Another issue that arose this morning was the appearance of several men who were wearing blue bibs marked 'human rights observer' and who arrived with the republican protestors. When one of them was asked who he was and what organisation he was from he refused to answer. Yet he was allowed by the PSNI to walk anywhere with a small video camera, and come close to people from the unionist community pointing his camera into their faces. I do not believe that wearing a blue bib marked 'human rights observer' gives anyone a special status and he certainly produced no identification or authentication. This seems to be a republican ruse to enable republican propagandists to get close to members of the unionist community who are there to enjoy the parade and gather video material for subsequent use in republican propaganda. Indeed the provocative manner in which such people operate, coming in close and pointing video cameras in our faces, seems almost designed to provoke a reaction which would then be filmed and put on the internet. However members of the unionist community ignored such provocation.
There is work to be done on a number of issues before the next parade on the Crumlin Road at the end of the month but one thing was clear from this morning. GARC are simply a gather-up of dissident republicans and this morning they couldn't even gather up very many.
The issue of self-appointed 'human rights observers' is one that we will be taking up with the police in the next few weeks. It seems that you can go anywhere in these situations as long as you wear a bib with 'human rights observer' printed on it. If that is the case and the PSNI allow it to continue, I suspect that many people will be out ordering their own blue bibs for such situations.