Northern Ireland

Ulster Covenant wreath laying ceremony at Stormont

Orangemen and MLAs lay wreath at Sir Edward Carson's statue at Stormont
Image caption Orangemen and MLAs laid a wreath at Sir Edward Carson's statue at Stormont

A wreath-laying ceremony has been held at Stormont ahead of the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

More than 30 MLAs are also members of the loyal orders and some of them were involved at the small event at Sir Edward Carson's statute on Wednesday.

They laid a bouquet of flowers at the statue. Sir Edward was the first person to sign the covenant in 1912.

Nearly 250,000 men signed the covenant, with almost the same number of women signing the declaration.

Drew Nelson, grand secretary of the Orange Order said the wreath had been laid to "mark the beginning of the next few days when we're leading up to our major parade which is the loyal Orange institution's major contribution to the decade of centenaries".

"We expect 20 to 25,000 on the parade and the number of spectators, you could not even hazard a guess at how many people will turn up to watch it," he said.

"Of course it is very weather dependent as well, but we do expect an enormous number of people to be here on Saturday."

The DUP's Nelson McCausland was one of the MLAs who attended the event.

"The focus will be very much here on Stormont on Saturday, it's the destination for all of the participants," he said.

Key event

"It's an event that will take place in the shadow of the statue of Sir Edward Carson and what better location could there be."

Mr Nelson said it was a key event in Northern Ireland's history.

"Almost half a million signed the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant," he said.

"I think that the enormous amount of organisation that went into that paid dividends in that it demonstrated to the British government the strength of feeling within the unionist community in the six counties and the nine counties of Ulster at that time.

"In my opinion that democratic exercise actually avoided a war surrounding the birth of Northern Ireland."

On Wednesday, the Parades Commission 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 which will make its way to Stormont in the east of the city.

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

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.

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