Concerns mount over loyalist parade in Belfast


CONCERNS OVER Saturday week’s massive Ulster Covenant parade in Belfast are mounting due to an impasse between the Orange Order and a nationalist residents group in the city centre.

The order, which is organising the parade commemorating the centenary of the signing of the anti-Irish Home Rule covenant, said it will only play hymns when passing St Patrick’s Catholic church, but to date has not agreed to formally talk to the local Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ Association. It has met local Catholic clergy and parishioners.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP say the controversy cannot be properly resolved until the order agrees to meet the residents group.

The two yesterday met the Parades Commission to discuss the controversial event. Some 20,000 Orangemen and 100 bands are due to take part in the main parade from Belfast City Hall to Stormont, with tens of thousands of supporters watching.

The concerns follow two loyal order parades past the church in the summer. In the first, a loyalist band allegedly played sectarian music outside the church and in the second, commission rulings banning that band from playing and insisting other bands not play music at the church were breached. The tensions further resulted in sectarian violence at Carlisle Circus in north Belfast, which loyalists were accused of orchestrating.

It was confirmed yesterday the band at the centre of the initial sectarian row on July 12th, the Young Conway Volunteers Flute Band, will not participate in the feeder parade past St Patrick’s Church on Saturday week.

The Orange Order also said it would only play hymns at St Patrick’s.

The order said it took that decision after meeting clergy and parishioners from St Patrick’s.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP said the order should agree to discuss the matter with members of the Carrick Hill residents group. “There needs to be face-to-face dialogue,” said Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly. He was not issuing an ultimatum, but appealing to the order to talk to the residents, he said. “Let’s not talk about ultimatums, let’s have dialogue,” he added.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said: “Carrick Hill residents are ordinary people who are simply demanding respect for themselves and for their church. They have been the victims and they should be contacted by the Orange Order.”

Fr Michael Sheehan, parish priest of St Patrick’s, welcomed the order’s commitment to playing hymns only but said there should be talks with residents.

Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said Orangemen were willing to have further talks with Fr Sheehan and parishioners of Carrick Hill. He said the order had already met the priest and parishioners and queried why talks with the residents group were required. “How many hoops do we have to jump through?” he asked.

The SDLP plans to press ahead with a no confidence motion in the Assembly regarding DUP Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland over his refusal to condemn breaches of Parades Commission rulings by the loyal orders last month. The motion has Sinn Féin backing but is virtually certain to fall as it will not have the necessary cross-party support.