Covenant parade passes peacefully


The massive Ulster Covenant centenary parade passed off peacefully in city centre Belfast yesterday despite complaints made over "provocative" drumming.

As some 30,000 marchers made their way from Belfast City Hall to Stormont yesterday morning, there was relief that the feeder parade past St Patrick's Catholic Church was trouble-free.

The return element of the loyal order parade also concluded peacefully - although again the parade at the church was notable for the particularly loud drumming by the loyalist bands.

There were also complaints that some bands played anti-Catholic sectarian tunes at St Mathews Church in east Belfast. They were instructed by the Parades Commission only to play sacred music at the church.

A spokesman for the commission said last night, "Any breach of a determination is a matter for the PSNI to investigate, and those involved could be liable to prosecution. The commission will take previous behaviour and any breaches into account in reaching future decisions."

The parade ranked as one of biggest seen in Ireland in decades. Feeder parades started arriving in Belfast city centre around 10am while the six-mile parade from Belfast City Hall to Stormont kicked off around 11am.

The first band and group of Orangemen arrived at the Stormont estate about 12.50 pm but even then bands were still queuing up at Sandy Row preparing to start their long march.

At 3pm four hours after the main parade began the last of the bands and loyal order members were leaving the city centre for Stormont.

Over 200 bands led some 20,000 Orange Order members and members of other loyal institutions such as the Apprentice Boys and the Royal Black Institution in the parade. A number of participants in the parades were wearing period costume.

Sectarian actions by loyalist bands members during the summer outside St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street raised concerns about this morning's parade by the church. The parade however, featuring 2,000 Orangemen and other loyal order members and about a dozen loyalist bands, was free of violence.

In accordance with a Parades Commission ruling about 150 local nationalists protested peacefully outside the church as the parade went by. The bands also observed the ruling that only sacred music be played past the church.

There were complaints by local nationalists that while the letter of the ruling in relation to music may have been observed the spirit of the determination was not - that some of the bands acted "provocatively".

Some of the bands drummed very loudly while one drummer in particular assertively pranced about while playing at the church.

Frank Dempsey, chairman of the local nationalist Carrick Hill Concerned Residents group accused at least one of the bands of breaching the commission ruling by playing The Sash shortly after passing the church.

He also said the "dancing drummer" showed disrespect while some of the drumming was "provocative". Referring to concerns about the return parade past the church this evening he said, "Overall this morning was peaceful but we wait now with baited breath for when they come back."

Mr Dempsey said the Orange Order should talk to the residents' group. "We are confident that this problem can be resolved through dialogue," he said.

St Patrick's administrator the Rev Michael Sheehan said, "I am glad it went off peacefully. The residents acted very well; the Orangemen marched with dignity down the road." He said some of the bands seemed "quite exuberant" which some local people found insulting. "There were some hymns that I never heard played with such drums accompaniment."

The way to resolve differences was through dialogue between the loyal orders and the residents group, he added.

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