Wide relief as parade passes off peacefully
THERE WAS a great sense of relief in Belfast at the weekend that the massive Ulster Covenant parade concluded peacefully – despite complaints that some loyalist bands breached Parades Commission rulings or were deliberately “provocative” while playing outside two Catholic churches.
At the start of September, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, who was in charge of Saturday’s major police operation during the parade of 30,000 marchers, warned that somebody “will be killed” unless efforts were made to defuse tensions around the Ulster Covenant parade.
“The day passed off in relative peace and calm,” he was able to state on Saturday evening.
“I would like to express my sincere thanks to all of those involved in the hard work behind the scenes over recent weeks, and right up to this evening, to make this possible.
“These very real efforts, made by community representatives and loyal orders supported by their political representatives, show a real willingness to achieve local resolutions. Hopefully this will create a more positive platform for dealing with sensitive parades in 2013,” added Mr Kerr.
He was reflecting a sense of relief across security, political, community and church communities that one of the biggest parades witnessed in Northern Ireland in recent generations, involving more than 200 loyalist bands and more than 20,000 loyal order members, could end without rioting or other violence.
A number of loyalist bands, however, were accused of acting disrespectfully on the outward and return feeder parades past the flashpoint St Patrick’s Church in Donegall Street in central Belfast on Saturday.
The dozen or so bands that participated in the feeder parades observed in letter the Parades Commission determination to only play sacred music at the church – but the heavily percussive nature of the playing and the prancing antics of at least one of the drummers raised questions as to whether they had broken the spirit of the ruling.
Loyalist bands were also instructed to play hymns only in passing St Mathew’s Catholic Church in east Belfast, but according to nationalist and community representatives this was breached on numerous occasions, with the playing of tunes such as The Sash at the church.
Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said he was informed that more overtly anti-Catholic tunes such as The Famine Song and The Billy Boys were also played at St Mathew’s Church.
Frank Dempsey, chairman of the nationalist Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ group, led 150 local residents in a protest as the parade went by in the morning and evening at St Patrick’s.
He said the “dancing drummer” at the church showed disrespect, while some of the drumming was “provocative”.
Mr Dempsey said the Orange Order should talk to the residents’ group. “We are confident that this problem can be resolved through dialogue.” Similar calls were made by Mr Kelly and local SDLP MLA Alban Maginness.
The Dean of the Church of Ireland St Anne’s Cathedral, Rev John Mann, joined auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor Dr Donal McKeown and local Catholic clergy at St Patrick’s when the morning parade went by.
Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said he was surprised tensions were being raised after the parade. He said now was the time to “enhance community relations . . . quietly behind the scenes”.
A Parades Commission spokesman said any breaches of its determinations were 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,” he added.