SDLP leader Mark Durkan today backed away from claims that his party would consider its position on policing if a Parades Commission ruling on a controversial Orange march in north Belfast was defied.
Speaking after last night’s violence at Ardoyne when police were injured in clashes with nationalist protesters, Mr Durkan said the Parades Commission had been undermined by the police decision to allow Orange supporters to pass.
Yesterday, his party colleague Martin Morgan hinted the SDLP would review its position on the Policing Board and the District Policing Partnerships if the Commission’s ruling was not adhered to.
But Mr Durkan refused to go that far.
“There are bigger issues here at stake than just whether or not the SDLP take a particular attitude in relation to policing overall based on what we believe was a mismanaged situation yesterday,” he said.
“We are on the Policing Board to hold the police to account for their performance and we will be holding the police to account for their performance.”
A total of 25 police officers were injured in clashes with nationalist supporters during last night’s bitterly contested parade.
Loyalists and nationalists pelted each other with missiles as several hundred on either side were kept apart by a massive security operation in the Ardoyne.
The march had been restricted by the Parades Commission ruling that only lodge members and marshals could take part in the parade back to the loyalist Ballysillan area.
The trouble began after supporters of the Orangemen were allowed to pass the security cordon.
The police argued that they had acted in accordance with the ruling as the supporters were not allowed to pass until after the Orangemen had walked through.
After the parade passed, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly launched a furious attack on the authorities' handling of the situation.
He said: “The Parades Commission is now defunct because when it makes a decision the PSNI does whatever it wants to do anyway.
“They are cock-a-hoop because they are still in charge.”
Mr Durkan said: “I think the Parades Commission is undermined and put in a difficult position in the way in which decisions were taken yesterday.
“We were not meant to get ourselves into a situation where key decisions about what was going to happen in relation to parades would be the situation of uncertainty and rumour.”
Mr Durkan said the police had argued that the Parades Commission decision did not deal with the question of what was going to happen to the supporters afterwards.
“If there was any shortcoming in what the Parades Commission decided, we have to look at that.
“We also have to look and see whether this was a case of people in the police exploiting a technicality that went against the logic of the Parades Commission determination.”