Belfast Telegraph

Dismay at lack of talks over parade flashpoint

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Reaching a resolution over Northern Ireland’s latest parade flashpoint appears to be no closer now than when trouble first erupted this summer.

The Parades Commission said unionists and organisers of a parade on Sunday had no reason to continue to ignore residents of Carrick Hill in north Belfast.

The Orange Order last month stated that it had changed its policy on talking to nationalist residents groups.

As commissioners imposed restrictions on Sunday's annual Protestant Reformation commemoration, the Order declined to comment on whether the bands would adhere to their ruling.

In a statement calling for an end to the current impasse, the parades body said: “The Commission is disappointed that there has been no direct contact between the parade organiser and the Carrick Hill residents despite there being no inhibitors to this dialogue taking place. Nor has there been any form of representation from Unionist politicians. The Commission expects this to be rectified as soon as possible, in the very near future.”

Four bands and 400 participants have been prohibited from playing music when passing the flashpoint at Carrick Hill.

The Commission has said that only hymns are permitted when passing St Patrick's Catholic church on Donegall Street.

Supporters have also been banned from streets between Clifton Street, Donegall Street and Royal Avenue.

The Rev Mervyn Gibson (left) County Grand Chaplain, said: “It is disappointing that parishioners would be protesting at a Sunday service. I wonder what hymns they are objecting to. However, the Parades Commission determination comes as no surprise. They have banned Christian hymns before without justification.

“There have been quiet conversations before and it appears they were not acceptable.”

A counter demonstration organised by the Carrick Hill Residents Committee has also been limited to 100 people.

Spokesman Frank Dempsey said: “We have scaled down our protests as a gesture of goodwill. This needs to be sorted out. Up until now they (Orange Order) have basically ignored us. On paper this determination looks like a step in the right direction but our position would be let's wait and see how it pans out.”

Seven police officers were injured after disturbances broke out when bandsmen defied Parades Commission rulings on a contentious parade past St Patrick's Church on August 28.

And when tens of thousands of Orangemen took part in a parade to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant last month, a number of bands breached a determination to play only sacred music outside St Matthews Catholic church in east Belfast.

The Orange Order has since apologised but Sinn Fein branded the acknowledgement inadequate.

Niall O Donnghaile, a former lord mayor of Belfast, said: “The Orange Order may as well not have bothered. Their so-called apology makes absolutely no reference to the countless breaches of the Parades Commission determination and the complete disrespect shown to this community.

“There should be no ambiguity; there should be no excuses, what happened outside St Matthew's was wrong and the leaders of the Orange Order and political unionism need to step up to the plate and say that.”

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