A Belfast police chief who headed the security operation surrounding a bitterly-contested Orange march that ended in violence today hit back in the face of rising Nationalist fury.
Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland defended the decision to let loyalist supporters walk through the city’s staunchly Catholic Ardoyne district, stressing there was no alternative.
The move sparked serious trouble last night with 25 police officers injured in clashes.
But as Bertie Ahern added to concerns that hangers-on were allowed through the area, Mr McCausland insisted he had no apology to make.
He said: “How could I have policed it any differently? Everyone there had their human rights. We did not betray anyone, we policed the law as the law was laid down.”
Loyalists and nationalists pelted each other with missiles as tensions soared during the flashpoint march which formed part of the North's annual Twelfth Orange Order celebrations.
The march had been restricted by a Parades Commission ruling that only lodge members and marshals could take part in the procession back to the loyalist Ballysillan area.
But trouble flared when supporters of the Orangemen were allowed to pass through a huge security cordon.
Nationalists and republicans were incensed by the police decision to escort through several hundred people, claiming it had left the Commission’s credibility in tatters.
Mr Ahern condemned the violence and described it as “deeply regrettable and disturbing”.
But he also acknowledged the widespread concerns surrounding the handling of the event, specifically that those not directly involved in the march were allowed to proceed through the Ardoyne.
He said: “It’s now important to establish precisely what happened and to see what lessons can be learned. What is clear is that the only way forward is through dialogue and meaningful engagement.”
Mr McCausland, however, insisted a full five minutes was allowed to separate the supporters from the Orangemen.
He added: “That situation was not of my making. The Parades Commission made their decision. I agreed with the chief constable that we would police that decision. As to whether it was a wrong decision - that’s for the whole community to decide.”
The officer insisted he was ready to be judged on his actions by the policing board which holds the force to account.
“I ask people to watch and judge us as to what happened last night. We minimised as much as we possibly could the problems we had to face. Not just our problems, the whole community’s problems.
“I have no apology to make in terms of how our officers behaved. They behaved extremely professionally, as did our army colleagues.”