St Patrick's: Fr Michael Sheehan welcomes Orange Order 'hymns only' instruction

St Patrick's church, Donegall Street St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street, was the scene of disorder and arrests in 2012, after a loyalist band marched in circles outside the building playing a song perceived to be sectarian

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A priest in north Belfast has welcomed an announcement by the Orange Order that it has instructed its members to "play hymns only" as they pass a Catholic church in the area.

St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street, has been the site of previous disorder.

Fr Michael Sheehan said he was also pleased with the order's openness in meeting him and the congregation.

The Orange Order said it would "take steps to ensure no-one on parade will stop outside the chapel".

Tensions began on 12 July 2012, when a loyalist band marched in a circle outside the church, playing a song perceived to be anti-Catholic.

The Orange Order said this year it would "take steps to ensure no-one on parade will stop outside the chapel".

'Welcomed'

Over the last two years, nationalist residents and parishioners have staged several protests against parades passing the building, with many holding signs demanding that "respect" is shown to their church.

In a statement on Wednesday, the County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast announced that "all parades under their jurisdiction will, for the remainder of 2014, play hymns only as they pass St Patrick's Roman Catholic Chapel".

"We hope this action will be welcomed by all concerned and accepted in the spirit made," the statement said.

"The open invitation from the County [Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast] for further conversations with the parish priest and members of the congregation remains live," it added.

The Orange Order said the announcement was made in a bid to build "on the success of last year's initiative".

Exactly one year ago, the order issued similar instructions to marchers and bands taking part in parades past St Patrick's.

'Contentious'

At that time, a senior spokesman said the trouble that occurred outside the church in 2012 "shouldn't have happened, and we've taken steps to ensure that it won't happen again".

The most serious disturbances happened in August 2012, just weeks after the loyalist band was filmed playing the contentious song.

The Young Conway Volunteers were playing The Famine Song, an anti-Catholic song judged racist by a court in Scotland. However, the band members maintained they were playing the Beach Boys song, Sloop John B.

In the aftermath of the controversy, the Parades Commission placed restrictions on a Royal Black Institution march through Donegall Street, as part of the institution's annual Black Saturday parade.

Trouble broke out as the last of the bands passed the church and seven police officers were injured in the clashes.

But the following year, August 2013, the same annual parade passed St Patrick's church without incident.

In April this year, nationalists from Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Group said they would not hold protests against loyalist parades, if march organisers made a statement confirming they would abide by Parades Commission rulings.

The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast said the 2014 instruction will apply to six parades it is holding from 20 June to 26 October.

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