Belfast Daily can reveal that two armoured PSNI Mitsubishi jeeps and up to a dozen cops kept watch over St Malachy’s pupils as they walked to a service close to Belfast City Centre.
The pupils were heading from their school on Belfast’s Antrim to St Patrick’s Chapel in Donegall Street for a feast day Mass for St Malachy.
Just after 10.30 am, the pupils, who were also acccompanied by teachers, walked to the flashpoint Carlisle Circus which had been the centre of trouble last month involving loyalist rioters.
An armoured PSNI Mitsubishi Shogun, with its blue lights flashing, accompanied the pupils on the half mile route from the school gates to the chapel.
A PSNI officer on foot patrol walked behind the last group of pupils heading to the 11 am service.
As they approached the lights at the junction of Clifton Street and Donegall Street, a second Mitsubishi Shogun was positioned across the road while a PSNI officer directed traffic to allow the pupils to cros the busy junction.
One local watching said: “That is the first time I have seen the police give the pupils a guard to the chapel for the St Malachy’s Feast Day.
“It just shows the tension that is in the air at the moment that pupils can’t walk to Mass without getting a police escort.”
However, a Protestant father-of-three described the police gun guard for the pupils as a “waste of resources”.
“Why did St Malachy’s pupils need an escort today? Where was the threat?
“And who sanctioned this because it appears to me to be pathetic and a waste of resources.
“My son can’t even get a bus safely to school. This is an absolute scandal,” he added.
Tensions have been high in the flashpoint area since the summer when the Shankill Road-based Young Conway Volunteers walked round in circles outside St Patrick’s Chapel playing loyalist tunes.
It provoked outrage from parishoners and residents and led to a formal apology from the Royal Black Perceptory to parish priest Fr Michael Sheehan about the band’s behaviour.
On Sunday, October 28, a further heavy police presence is expected as the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland goes on parade to celebrate the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Forty loyalist bands and around 400 Orangemen will walk from Florence Place, down Clifton Street and into Donegall Street past the Catholic Church at around 2pm.
However, in the light of previous trouble, the Parades Commission has imposed a number of restrictions on marchers on the outward and homeward journeys.
* a single drum beat (or no music) from the Westlink to 18 Clifton Street;
* only sacred (hymn music) to be played from the junction of 18 Clifton Street to the junction of Donegall Street and Union Street;
* no supporters from the Westlink to Clifton Street and the same from Donegall Street to Royal Avenue.
A counter demonstration by up to 100 members of the Carrickhill Concerned Residents Group (CCRG) will take place on both the outward and return journeys of the Orange Order parade.
The Parades Commission, who have imposed restrictions on the CCRG, said it was “disappointed” that no talks took place between the Orange Order and the residents group before it made its determination.