Royal Black marchers showed church no respect, claims priest
The priest at the church which is at the centre of a parading dispute has hit out at the conduct of marchers and bands during the Royal Black Institution parade past the church on Saturday.
His criticism comes as the so-called "Cardiff Talks' forum is due to meet in Belfast this week against the current backdrop of marching controversy and street confrontation.
Administrator at St Patrick's in Belfast, Fr Michael Sheehan, said the parade showed no respect for the church or the community as the Sash was played as marchers passed through the area.
He said other music was played loudly as bands passed the church on Donegall Street during 7pm mass and added that the march should not have been allowed.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said the parade had gone past the church deliberately late to coincide with the start of the Saturday evening service.
Fr Sheehan said: "Whilst the parades that passed St Patrick's Church in Belfast yesterday... were peaceful, it was disappointing and disheartening that the Royal Black Preceptory consider that the playing of the Sash as they march past residents of Carrick Hill and through this community of St Patrick's was respectful.
"The playing of loud music as they pass in front of St Patrick's church during divine worship is definitely not respectful.
"It is not conducive to the building of respect, trust and confidence between the communities of this city. It does not win the respect or trust of the congregation of this church. It is difficult not to interpret such actions on the part of the Loyal Orders as a failure at any real attempt to resolve the issues around the contentious parades as they pass St Patrick's church and its community.
"It is to be regretted that the PSNI allowed the procession of the parade and bands to pass the church during the celebration of the Eucharist from 7pm to 7.45pm, although the PSNI may have presumed that no music would have been played in accordance with the determination."
This week's Cardiff Talks, which will include politicians, police, loyalist and republican representatives, community workers and academics, will be the first since July. Orange Order Grand Chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said he will attend Wednesday's talks as an individual and not as a representative of the order.
"It's not going to be an easy meeting," he said. "If you want to solve the problem there's no point walking away."
Senior Belfast republican Sean Murray, who will also attend the talks, described the mood on the streets as "fraught in your face".
US diplomat Richard Haass is due to arrive in Northern Ireland within weeks to chair all-party talks on contentious issues.
On Saturday, around members from 400 preceptories took part in parades in Banbridge, Ballymoney, Newtownards, Dungannon, Castlederg and Ballyronan. Members of the Royal Black Institution were urged by their leaders to do all they lawfully can to protect their British culture, as they took part in one of the final showpieces of the marching season.
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The 'Cardiff Talks' were held in May in a bid to quell tensions surrounding the parading season. Police, politicians and community representatives travelled from Northern Ireland for the gathering, with further talks planned for Belfast at a later date. Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, who led the talks, said they had been "candid, honest and frank". In a statement issued after the talks, delegates agreed to keep lines of communication open, especially during periods of tension.