An Irish commemoration parade in Liverpool city centre was targeted by hundreds of far-right protesters who spat at and racially abused participants before police re-routed the event last Saturday afternoon.
Merseyside Police had to form a defensive line around more than 150 members of Cairde na hEireann after the event was branded an ‘IRA March’.
The parade was planned to commemorate Liverpool born Republican Sean Phelan, who killed during the war of independence in 1921, and was addressed by Sinn Fein TD for Cork East, Sandra McLellan.
The parade was met with huge hostility and was forced to turn back amid safety fears.
The event was targeted by and estimated 400 protesters and two coaches, which transported visiting bands from Scotland, had their windows smashed.
“I never experienced anything like it in my life,” Sandra McLellan told The Irish Post. “A group of about 30 yobs were allowed to walk beside the parade for at least a mile, shouting words like scum and murderers and ‘f*** off back to your own country.’
“I couldn’t believe the hatred. It was continuous. It was horrendous.”
Days before the commemoration, McLellan said she was contacted by Merseyside Police who said they were concerned about increased activity on the internet by groups targeting the commemoration.
“An incorrect perception suggested this was a Republican event,” she continued. “It was community organised to commemorate the memory of an old IRA man who died in 1921.”
The Sinn Fein TD was critical of Merseyside Police who she said allowed a mob to walk beside the parade, hurling racial anti-Irish abuse and in some instances, spitting on participants.
One participant, who wished to remain anonymous, said the parade was protected by a thin police line and that many people were left shaken by the abuse.
“There was estimated to be more than 400 people waiting for the parade to enter the city centre and at that stage,” he said. “Police consulted with organisers and decided to re-rout because they couldn’t guarantee people’s safety.”
In a statement, a spokesman for Cairde na hEireann said:
“It is a fact that groups such as the English Defence League, Infidels of Britain, and the British National Party lead a concerted campaign to increase tension surrounding this event by labelling it an IRA march. This vicious and appalling campaign of hate attracted the support of the Independent Orange Order, Loyalist groups and more worryingly, various ex-British Armed Forces groups who all actively and jointly co-ordinated with each other to oppose this annual Irish community event.”
“It is ironic that in 2011, during Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland she was able to lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which commemorates the men and women who died fighting for Irish Freedom, people like Volunteer Sean Phelan and yet despite this, this event was the subject of abuse, threats and intimidation.”
Merseyside Police said they put an extensive policing plan in place to allow the march, organised by Liverpool Friends of Ireland, The James Larkin Society and Liverpool Irish and Republic flute band, to go ahead.
Police reported one arrest during the operation, a 46-year-old man who was later released without charge.