Loyal order apology calms tensions ahead of parade
A LOYAL order apology to the priests and parishioners of a Belfast city centre Catholic church – viewed as unprecedented – has calmed some of the tensions around a massive Orange Order parade taking place in Belfast at the end of the month.
There was a general – although in some quarters qualified – welcome yesterday for a statement by the leaders of the Royal Black Institution apologising “for any offence” caused during a parade by the loyal order outside St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Donegall Street last Saturday week. Bands played music in contravention of a Parades Commission ruling while passing the church.
The response from the administrator of the church welcoming the apology also raised hopes that a parade of 20,000 Orangemen and 100 bands from Belfast City Hall to a huge rally six miles away on the grounds of Stormont might pass off peacefully on Saturday, September 29th.
There is still considerable concern around the parade which marks the centenary of the signing of the anti-Home Rule Ulster Covenant but the apology by the Royal Black Institution – the first such apology to a Catholic church from a loyal order, according to expert commentators – has helped to lower the sectarian temperature.
“Through its stand for the Reformed Christian Faith, the Royal Black Institution has doctrinal differences with the Roman Catholic Church but we want to make it absolutely clear that the anger of the Royal Black Institution is not directed at St Patrick’s Church,” the organisation said in a statement issued late on Wednesday night.
“We apologise for any offence to the clergy and parishioners of St Patrick’s Church,” added the statement by Millar Farr, sovereign grand master of the institution and William Scott, its grand registrar.
In response, Fr Michael Sheehan of St Patrick’s Church said, “I welcome this positive development and the sincere Christian spirit behind it.” The apology also followed a meeting of north Belfast politicians organised on Wednesday evening by First Minister Peter Robinson and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Orange Order representatives privately met Mr Robinson.
Police had bluntly warned that unless politicians stopped “posturing” and took action to cool tensions that somebody “will be killed” in the run-up to the parade on September 29th. That warning was issued by PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr following a number of nights of serious rioting at Carlisle Circus in north Belfast that injured over 60 police officers – rioting that was partly triggered by the current tensions.
The Royal Black Institution said that its “sense of injustice” was “focused on the Parades Commission and its irrational and often irresponsible determinations”. It added: “We have always had good lines of communication with the Roman Catholic Church and we would intend to continue to maintain and consolidate these away from the public gaze.”
North Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly Member Gerry Kelly said it was not a “full” apology but that the institution’s statement was “a step in the right direction”.