EXCLUSIVE: PSNI commanders fear dissident republicans and loyalists are hell-bent on confrontation and violence at an anti-internment rally on Friday in Belfast.
Republicans are to hold a controversial anti-internment parade along Royal Avenue in Belfast city centre on Friday evening at 6 pm.
But some police chiefs fear their resources will be stretched to the limit as hundreds of loyalists plan to flood Belfast in protest.
Intelligence is warning of the possibility of “hand-to-hand” fighting erupting between rival groups which could lead to more serious violence on the streets.
Belfast Daily can reveal that the PSNI’s senior command held a high level meeting at police headquarters in east Belfast late into Thursday night to discuss three days of parading.
“The Chief Constable told his seniors that he believes he has enough resources to cope with the situation,” said a security source.
“He doesn’t believe he needs to bring in ‘mutual-aid’ officers from England.
“Commanders on the ground see the picture differently. They are concerned that resources will be stretched over the weekend.”
It is understood some chief constables on mainland Britain are said to be concerned about deploying any more of their officers to Northern Ireland.
“Some forces have their own problems to deal with,” added the source.
“For example, Strathclyde Police have problems similar to the PSNI. They have officers who live in loyalist areas of Scotland and there is a fear that they would become easy targets for attack
“This weekend is a major headache for the PSNI. Whether Matt Baggott is right or not remains to be seen.
“If he gets this wrong, questions will be asked about why extra resources were not mobilised,” added the security source.
Friday evening’s march, which starts in north Belfast, is being held to coincide with the introduction of internment in Northern Ireland in 1971.
The Parades Commission has given permission for six loyalist protests against the parade.
Numbers have been restricted at four of them.
However, Belfast Daily understands that loyalists are planning to come out in force to oppose the parade.
It is understood scores of protestors are being bused in from Tandragee and Portadown, in Co Armagh, Carricfergus, Co Antrim, Bangor and Newtownards in Co Down.
Loyalist protest website were buzzing on Thursday night with requests for large numbers to turn out and “oppose the republicans”.
One page boasted that as many 8,000 people could converge on Belfast, making the PSNI’s job even more difficult.
“People have been requesting where they can park if they come into Belfast,” said a loyalist source in Portadown.
“We have been told to converge at the Arts College in Belfast’s Donegall Street area.
“There is a strong rumour going round on Facebook that an attempt will be made to block the republican parade somewhere along its route.”
A protest rally by loyalists in the Donegall Road area is to walk through Belfast to the counter demo at North Street/Royal Avenue junction.
Another large parade is being planned for Twaddell Avenue at 6 pm for people not going to the counter demonstration in the city centre.
“The plan is to stretch the police to the limit. If things kick off, and there is a fair chance they will given the feelings of people towards this parade, then the police will be caught on the hop.”
The DUP has called on Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to ban the anti-internment march.
After meeting with police on Thursday, Assembly member Nelson McCausland said Chief Constable Matt Baggott should recommend to Ms Villiers that the parade should not take place.
Commenting on the dissident republican parade in Belfast on Friday evening, North Belfast DUP MLA Nelson McCausland said,
“The proposed march is another Parades Commission approved recipe for disaster. We are pleading with the Chief Constable and Secretary of State to utilise their legal powers to act and intervene now.
“Those legal powers were placed there for good reason and we believe were placed there for circumstances such as this.
“The Secretary of State has said that the Castlederg march does not meet the legal tests to use her powers. We believe the event in Belfast meets each and every one of them.
“We re-iterate again the message that if Matt Baggott and Theresa Villiers abdicate their responsibilities and the parade goes ahead, that protests against this dissident republican event must remain peaceful at all times. No Unionist or Loyalist should stoop to the level of dissident republicans.
“It is clear from the republican assaults on the Twelfth parade at multiple points, on-going interface attacks and the two murder attempts on the Twaddell protest that sectarian confrontation is what they are seeking.
“It is imperative that those who wish to rightly show their disgust at the dissident march do so in a dignified manner,” he added.