Belfast Daily can reveal that six members of the Pride of Ardoyne flute band have received summonses to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court in the morning.
The bandsmen have been accused of breaching a Parades Commission determination by playing music within a 25 yard stretch up to police lines.
The summonses – which were hand delivered by uniformed PSNI officers last month – have provoked a wave of outrage among loyalists.
The west Belfast branch of the Ulster Political Research Group has today called for the “trumped up charges” to be dropped.
In a statement, it said: “The decision to prosecute members of the Pride of Ardoyne band for playing musical instruments is ludicrous but at the same time very distressing for those members who have ended up in court on trumped up charges.
“We feel that the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) time would be better served investigating recent murderous attacks by violent dissident republican extremists from Ardoyne on Officers and the Twaddell community.
“We call on the PPS to drop these trumped up charges against these six individuals.”
The DUP has also condemned the decision to prosecute the bandsmen.
Oldpark DUP councillor Gareth McKee said: “This disgraceful decision by the PPS to prosecute a band for playing musical instruments stands in stark contrast to their decision not to bring charges against members of the republican band ‘The Druids’ who were filmed delivering a hate-filled sectarian speech at the recent Ardoyne Fleadh. Meanwhile republicans can fire shots over coffins and have illegal parades which go unpunished and unnoticed by the mainstream media.
“The Pride of Ardyone Flute Band and the wider Twaddell peaceful protest stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of republicans who have attempted to murder police officers on numerous occasions, most recently this week. The police and the PPS would better spend their time attempting to catch these terrorists, rather than attempting to criminalise the peaceful expression of culture.
“From the outset of this campaign of intolerance, led by republicans and the Parades Commission, the DUP has stood side by side with the Ligoniel Lodges and bands. We are committed to continuing to support them until they are allowed to return up the Crumlin Road with dignity and respect.
“This entire episode will lead many within the Unionist community to conclude that double standards exist within the criminal justice process,” he added.
Hundreds of loyalists across Northern Ireland have pledged support to swamp Laganside court complex tomorrow vent their fury at the charges.
The protest is being backed by the Orange Order in north Belfast with senior members planning to attend the hearing to show their support to the bandsmen.
A source close to the Pride of Ardoyne flute ban told Belfast Daily: “This is pathetic, political policing.
“The loyalist people will not be taking this lying down. People from Londonderry, Coleraine, Armagh, Carrick, Antrim and right across Belfast have said they are going to Laganside to support the boys.
“The PSNI will need a major security operation tomorrow and it will cost them an absolute fortune.
“Our plan is to bring the court to a standstill. Chief Constable George Hamilton will need to get his money out because he is going to have a hefty overtime bill.
“We are calling on all unionist and loyalist politicians to get off their arses and come down to court and show their support for the Pride of the Ardoyne members.
“The politicians called the public out onto the streets to protest about Twaddell. Now they need to stand by those whose only crime was to play music.’’
Four months ago, around 500 people picketed Tennent Street PSNI station in west Belfast as four members of the Pride of the Ardoyne band attended for voluntary interview.
The protestors were joined by DUP MLAs William Humphrey and Nelson McCausland along with PUP spokesman Winston Irvine.
The bandsmen were invited to attend at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 2 along with their solicitor Joe Magee for alleged repeated breaches of Parades Commission determination.
They were interviewed by detectives from ‘Operation Titan’ which police chiefs set up following two-days or rioting last July after the PSNI blocked a return feeder parade past the Ardoyne shop fronts.
One of those who attended the meeting was told he faces a total of nine breaches for playing music contrary to the Commission’s determination.
Scores of loyalists have been convicted and jailed in recent months over the rioting at Twaddell in July 2013 during which over two dozen police officers were injured.