Northern Ireland

St Patrick's priest offers talks with Royal Black Institution

Band outside St Patricks Catholic church
Image caption The Parades Commission placed restrictions on the 25 August march following events on 12 July

A Catholic parish priest has offered to hold talks with a Protestant loyal order that apologised for any offence caused during one of its parades.

During a Royal Black Institution parade last month, loyalist bands played music outside St Patrick's Church in defiance of a ruling by the Parades Commission.

The Institution later apologised.

Fr Michael Sheehan said he hoped the "sad events of recent weeks" could be turned into "an opportunity to create a better future for all".

"My belief that this can be achieved has been greatly strengthened by the open support for your letter from the Orange Order," he wrote in response to an open letter from the Royal Black Institution.

"I believe a unique opportunity now presents itself for us to work together with all concerned parties to bring about a more peaceful future.

"We have an opportunity to demonstrate with generosity and goodwill that it is possible to reach local agreement on challenging issues on the basis of dialogue, mutual Christian respect and trust."

'Good neighbourliness'

The Orange Order plans to hold a parade in the area on 29 September commemorating the 100th anniversary of the signing of the anti-Home Rule Ulster Covenant.

Fr Sheehan said he wanted to acknowledge the "sincere spirit of Christian generosity and good neighbourliness" conveyed in the Institution's letter, where it said its anger was directed at the Parades Commission rather than the Catholic church.

He added: "The people of north Belfast have suffered terribly over many years because of attitudes and actions that often resulted in violence which furthered social and economic disadvantage for both Protestants and Catholics.

"A legacy of this painful past remains in sectarian and intolerant attitudes which at times manifest themselves in wasteful and destructive violence and disorder."

The Parades Commission placed restrictions on the 25 August march following events on 12 July, when a loyalist band was blamed on playing a sectarian song outside the church.

However, the band defied the commission's determination, and other bands, which were restricted to playing a single drum beat, also breached the ruling.

Trouble broke out as the last of the bands marched past the church. Seven police officers were injured.

The City of Belfast Grand Black Chapter demonstration was held in the city for the first time last month.

This year, it marked the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Convenant.

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