Northern Ireland

Orange Order outlines plans to avoid parades controversy

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBands defied a ban on playing music while passing St Patrick's Catholic Church in August 2012

The Orange Order has outlined plans to avoid a repeat of controversial parades past a Catholic church.

It has issued guidelines for the conduct of marchers and bands at a series of parades past St Patrick's in Belfast later this year.

They will include restrictions on the type of music that can be played.

On 12 July last year a loyalist band marched in a circle outside the church, playing a song perceived to be sectarian.

And on 25 August bands defied a Parades Commission ruling to play only a single drum beat while marching past St Patrick's on Donegall Street close to the city centre.

Disturbances followed and several arrests were made.

In a statement on Tuesday the County Grand Lodge of Belfast said: "We do not subscribe to the view that violence is inevitable this year, people have choices.

'Show respect'

"We present this comprehensive template as a sign of goodwill and a platform on which to build. It seeks to further address the issue of respect as identified by the clergy and parishioners of St Patrick's Roman Catholic chapel, following the incident there on 12 July 2012."

Reverend Mervyn Gibson, county grand chaplain, said: "I hope that people will understand that what happened at St Patrick's last year shouldn't have happened, and we've taken steps to ensure that it won't happen again.

"We seek to show that we want to show respect to St Patrick's and we hope this will be accepted for what it is, a genuine attempt to do that."

The proposals did not include direct dialogue with residents' groups.

Mr Gibson added: "Once we do something it is never enough. Once we talk to someone we have a new residents' group.

"Only yesterday we had another new residents' group set up in the community so what group do we talk to? It is not as simple as saying just stop and everything will be rosy. That is not the case."

The Carrick Hill Residents' Group, which was established in 2012, welcomed the statement and its recognition of "the disruption their parades cause to our community".

It added: "Protests at Carrick Hill or St Patrick's church have never been about denying any of the Loyal Orders their right to march, celebrate or commemorate their history.

"However, attempts to prejudice or influence rulings of the Parades Commission, be they on affected routes, music or supporter numbers, must not be allowed to happen."

There are eight parades scheduled to pass St Patrick's this year, the first on 21 June and the last on 27 October.

'Two-way process'

During five of those parades bands will only be allowed to play hymns, and on the other three the lead band will play a hymn and the other bands will play 'respectful music'.

The Order said that no part of any parade will stop outside St Patrick's, and those accompanying the parade will walk on one side of the street.

It also said it would support all attempts to stop on-street drinking, facilitate any funeral, wedding or regular church services, and will have monitors present.

The County Grand Lodge is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and added: "Nobody has anything to fear from showing mutual respect, but it is a two-way process and a genuine apology for hurt cannot be continually rejected in favour of ongoing humiliation and punishment by the Parades Commission."

Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said he shared the hopes expressed by the Order for a peaceful marching season, but that they should have talked to local residents.

'Immediate dialogue'

"Last year the Orange Order said that local lodges were free to enter into dialogue with local communities," he said.

"This happened in Crumlin last July with an agreed outcome as a result but has not been replicated anywhere else.

"Today's statement by the Orange Order speaks of goodwill and of building a platform. So the next logical step is immediate dialogue with residents."

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds said: "This initiative is to be warmly welcomed.

"I trust that this template will remove any uncertainty or build-up of tension in the run-up to parades departing from Belfast Orange Hall at Clifton Street this summer."

Mike Nesbitt, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said the statement was a positive step.

He said: "In the continued absence of political agreement on the issue of parades, it is important to recognise that the Orange Order has not stood idly by, but has proactively assessed the lessons to be taken on board from last summer's incident at St Patrick's church.

"No one is suggesting it is the final solution, but it is a respectful step forward."