TRAFFIC came to a standstill in parts of Belfast yesterday as furious republicans protested at the Parades Commission decision to allow loyalist marchers down part of the nationalist Springfield Road.
The busy Westlink was closed for several hours and there was disruption on the Grosvenor Road and outside the central railway station.
However, the Whiterock Orange Order Parade passed off without serious incident, prompting a senior police commander to praise protesters and marchers. Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland, said it was a very positive day for the people of west and north Belfast.
"Hopefully both communities can now carry on the positive dialogue that resulted in a peaceful day, " he said. "I was very encouraged by the behaviour of everyone involved.
Heavy policing will not solve this issue. It is down to both communities to build on what has been achieved today." Both the parade and protest were heavily marshalled by republicans and loyalists in order to halt any potential disorder. The Orangemen's route took the march from the Orange Hall on the Shankill ? around neighbouring streets ? then down Ainsworth Avenue, across to Workman Avenue and onto the Springfield Road.
The parade proceeded up the Springfield Road, along the West Circular and back towards the Shankill.
Over 400 protesters gathered on the Springfield Road with a large number of police and army personnel watching on. The march had been banned by the Parades Commission which then changed its mind when Orange leaders pledged that no offensive loyalist emblems would be carried. Marchers were told they must ensure all terrorist flags were removed and a flute band which flouted the rules last year was told it could not parade.
However, Springfield Road residents spokesman, Sean Paul O'Hare, said he believed four rolled-up banners may have been paramilitary flags.
"If this proves to be the case then that is a breach of guidelines agreed, " he said.
"Nationalists held a number of peaceful demonstrations throughout Belfast in order to vent their anger at the cowardly U-turn by the Parades Commission. People in this area feel let down and under siege." Alasdair McDonnell, an SDLP Assembly member, accepted there appeared to be no loyalist provocation but insisted the tense stand-off was far from perfect.