Northern Ireland

Orange Order visits St Matthew's priest to apologise

Mervyn Gibson
Image caption Orange Order Grand Chaplain Mervyn Gibson apologised for the behaviour of a bandsman

Orange Order Grand Chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson has visited St Matthew's Catholic church to apologise to the priest for the behaviour of a bandsman caught urinating at the church.

Grand Secretary of the Order, Drew Nelson, earlier apologised on radio.

A photograph in Monday's Irish News showed a drummer relieving himself at the gateway of the church on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast.

It happened during the Ulster Covenant commemoration parade on Saturday.

Rev Gibson said his apology to the parish priest would be followed up with a letter that could be read out out to parishioners.

Speaking on BBC NI's Good Morning Ulster programme Mr Nelson said the incident was "outrageous and unacceptable".

He apologised unreservedly to the priest and parishioners of St Matthew's and said the Orange Order would look into what happened.

"We are always trying to review things and we will be looking at this seriously," he said.


At the weekend, BBC Newsline reported that bands clearly breached a Parades Commission ruling that they should only play hymns as they passed St Matthew's Church on the Newtownards Road.

Image caption A Shankill band outside St Patrick's Catholic Church in Donegall Street on Saturday

Sinn Fein called on First Minister Peter Robinson to condemn the bands who broke the ruling.

Police said evidence had been gathered and any breaches of the law would be passed to the Public Prosecution Service.

Another flashpoint on the route, where trouble flared in the summer, was outside St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street.

BBC NI Home Affairs Correspondent Vincent Kearney said: "The Parades Commission had ruled that the 14 bands taking part in this parade could only play hymn music passing the church and they did so.

"But the way in which some of the musicians played attracted criticism.

"Protesters said some tunes that they found offensive were also played just a short distance past the church and that the Parades Commision's ruling had been breached."


In east Belfast, bands breached the Parade Commission's ruling that they should play only hymn music passing St Matthew's Church. The song, The Sash, was clearly heard and some onlookers joined in, singing the words.

Speaking about the weekend parade, NI Parades Commission chair Peter Osborne said: "The fact that it was a large parade and that it passed off largely peacefully is positive.

"We are getting news of a couple of breaches and we will look at those."

He said that there had been some very good engagement and discussion between politicians, the Orange Order and church and community representatives. This signalled a situation where resolution was possible and people could move forward.

He would not comment on breaches to the commission's ruling, saying that he wanted to review reports from monitors and the police.

However, he added: "One of the things we need to look at are which bands breached the ruling and where those bands came from."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said any breaches were a matter for the PSNI to investigate.

Willie Ward, a parishioner at St Matthews, said he was the only person in the church grounds on Saturday.

"We were disappointed in the sense that some of the bandsmen did not adhere to the Parades Commission ruling.

"And I was very disappointed to see some of the local residents with a banner outside the church and with flags booing some of the bandsmen who didn't break the Parades Commission ruling when they wouldn't play the Sash for them.

"We as a parish had worked closely with the PSNI on this parade," he added.

"We tried to work with everyone to make sure that parade was as peaceful as possible. We made sure there was nobody on the interface or nobody in the church grounds, so there'd be no confrontation."


Up to 30,000 people took part in events to mark the Ulster Covenant centenary.

The biggest policing operation in Belfast for 20 years was in place for a six-mile march from central Belfast to Stormont.

It marked the anniversary of the signing of the document in 1912, which laid the foundations for the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland a decade later.

Meanwhile, Clifton Street Orange Hall in north Belfast has been targeted in an overnight attack.

Paint was thrown at the front of the building.

It is the latest in a series incidents which normally follow parades.

DUP MLA William Humphrey said: "This was sectarian and in response to the success of Saturday's covenant parade."

He said it should be condemned just as the Orange Order had condemned what happened in east Belfast.

Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said the Covenant parade "laid bare the lie that unionism is a political ideology that does or can ever enjoy widespread support from across the board."

"Saturday was about supremacy, it was about intolerance and it was about triumphalism," he said.

"The rights of nationalist residents in Carrick Hill and the Short Strand were secondary to a unionist demand to march past Catholic churches whilst playing sectarian tunes."

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