As a band we have been the most recent focus of a two-tiered policing regime here in Northern Ireland.
On 24th April we held our annual band parade. This parade was a notified parade with approval being given from the parades commission. As a band we had been clear in requesting that people coming to spectate do so in a safe manner. The band maintained social distancing and completed a risk assessment for the parade.
The PSNI accompanied and facilitated the parade following protracted discussions. Over this period, we recorded approximately 60 phone calls from the PSNI in a clear act of harassment. At no point during any of these phone calls did the PSNI inspectors and Sergeant state that this parade was illegal. In fact, the exact opposite happened in that multiple PSNI officers assured us that no prosecution would occur. These assurances were given to band members and local elected representatives alike.
Following the success of this parade and the clear desire of the local communities to have similar safe parades, we proceeded to notify the parades commission of our desire to hold another parade. This parade was to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland on 3rd May. Again, the band made it clear to all spectators that they must remain in their cars and maintain social distancing.
The planning for this parade was again a continued harassment of the band committee, with a further 43 phone calls and text messages from PSNI. Again, we were never told at any point that this parade would be prosecuted for breaching any covid regulations.
On the night, we were alarmed to see a change of police facilitation from 9 days previous, as this time there was upwards of 25 officers, an evidence gathering team and multiple police drones following the band. This was an act of clear provocation and harassment that obviously came from the upper echelons of the PSNI. The officers that we spoke to on the night and since had no idea why such a heavy-handed approach was taken, and assured us that this was not a decision taken locally.
A mere 10 days following this parade we have now started to receive a number of letters inviting band members to appear for an interview, with the view to pass the information on to the PPS. We know that 44 officers were used in the operation to hand out these notices to band members, with 9 officers being present at the house of one 22-year-old member to hand him a two-page letter.
This leaves us to ask:
What changed in the 9 days between our parades? Why was a decision made by the upper ranks of the PSNI to make an example of Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band?
Why have we now been invited to attend for interview with a view to prosecution when PSNI in Armagh assured us that this would not happen?
Why have we been the subject of PSNI harassment in that we have collectively received over 100 phone calls and messages in the lead up and since our parades.
Why are we being treated differently to other sections of society, namely the Sinn Fein leadership with their show of strength at the Bobby Storey Funeral who were free to gather crowds in excess of 2000?
Instead, the band would like to state publicly that until the letters are rescinded, we will no longer be co-operating with the PSNI. We will continue to submit the 11/1 for our parades, however we will not be working with PSNI to police these parades. We will instead be policing and marshalling our own parades.
We are also withdrawing our support for the PSNI until a serious approach is taken to reform policing in Northern Ireland and an end to the two-tiered policing that we have become subject to.
Markethill Protestant Boys Flute Band Committee.
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