Parades Commission rules on Ulster Covenant Orange Order parade

Band outside St Patrick's Catholic church

Bands will only play hymns outside a north Belfast Catholic church

The Parades Commission has issued its ruling on Saturday’s Ulster Covenant parade.

Only hymns are to be played as bands pass St Patrick‘s Church in north Belfast and no loyalist supporters are to accompany the parade there.

A planned nationalist protest at the church is to number no more than 150 people, the commission has ruled.

The Orange Order has estimated 25,000 to 30,000 marchers will descend on Belfast city centre for the parade.

About 2,000 marchers will take part in the feeder parade which is due to go past St Patrick’s Church.

The Orange Order previously said bands taking part in the parade would only play hymns when passing the Catholic church on Donegall Street.

On 12 July a band was filmed marching in a circle outside the church, playing a tune perceived to be sectarian during a delay in the main Orange Order parade.

In August, bands defied a ruling banning music at the church. In the subsequent riots, seven police officers were injured.

The Commission’s ruling on hymns and supporters applies between Donegall Street and Royal Avenue and between Clifton Street and the Westlink junction.

Among other conditions imposed are that there will be no undue stoppages or delays and no paramilitary displays.

Only hymns are to be played when another feeder parade passes St Matthew’s Catholic Church in east Belfast.

The nationalist Carrick Hill residents are seeking legal advice with a view to a possible judicial review of the commission’s determination.

“I think it’s fair to say that the residents are disappointed – they wanted silence, no music down past St Patrick’s chapel,” Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said.

“This was the determination the last time and they had some expectation it would be repeated, especially because the determination was broken en masse.”

The Orange Order’s Mervyn Gibson said the order would sit down and study the determination in detail.

“My first reaction is one of surprise that they have now extended it (the ruling on hymns) into east Belfast when the issue all along had been St Patrick’s Church.

“I can’t understand it. There was no problem.”

Orange appeal

Earlier, the Orange Order said it did not want the dispute around St Patrick’s Church to be the focus of the day.

It said the event will be one of the biggest it has organised.

Marchers and bands will meet at Belfast City Hall and then march to Stormont.

It is thought it will take two hours for all those involved to get through the gates.

The order has said it wants the day to remain peaceful and has urged anyone not involved in the feeder parade to stay away from the Donegall Street area.

The leaders of the two main unionist parties met the commission on Tuesday and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness also spoke to members of the body.

In a joint statement, DUP and UUP leaders Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt urged all those attending the parade to behave with “dignity and honour”.

They said those protesting against it should do so in a lawful manner.

Mr McGuinness said it was “hugely disappointing” that the Orange Order “continue to choose to disrespect the residents of Carrick Hill by refusing to enter into dialogue with them”.

“Now is the time for political leaders to step forward and show leadership to ensure Saturday goes off peacefully,” he added.

Unionist commemoration

The march on 29 September is part of events marking 100 years since the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

The Covenant was signed by just under half a million men and women, on and before 28 September 1912.

It was signed in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill, which would have brought in an Irish parliament with responsibility for Irish domestic affairs.

Sir Edward Carson – a lawyer from Dublin and leader of the Irish Unionists – was the first person to sign the Covenant at the Belfast City Hall.

Signatories pledged to use “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Dublin”.

It it is seen as one of the key events in unionism.

WITH MANY THANKS TO : BBC NEWS

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