The Orange Order has insisted that it will not allow anyone to have a ‘veto’ over its biggest event in decades.
Reverend Mervyn Gibson said the institution would not meet requests from nationalists for a single drum beat to be played during a contentious section of next week’s Ulster Covenant parade.
Instead, the county grand chaplain claimed the loyal orders would be pressing ahead with plans to play only hymns when marching past St Patrick’s Church on Belfast’s Donegall Street.
“You cannot have a veto over how people celebrate their culture,” he said.
Tensions have been rising ahead of the huge event on September 29 that marks 100 years since the signing of the Ulster Covenant.
The Orange Order has been coming under increasing pressure to meet representatives of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Committee which will be staging a protest of up to 500 people next Saturday.
Mr Gibson said that the organisation had consulted with clergy and parishioners from St Patrick’s but that it did not feel compelled to consult with residents regarding the parade.
“The reason we are not speaking to residents at this stage is that the issue was respect for St Patrick’s Church,” he added.
“That was what was called for with the Black Institution (on August 25) and that is what was called for on the Twelfth of July.
“The people to talk to are those at the centre of that — the clergy and the parishioners. And we entered into negotiations — quiet conversations — with the clergy and parishioners.
“Now, a new demand has come. How many more groups do we need to talk to? We listened and we took on board what the clergy and parishioners said and playing hymns is our response.”
Last month, violence flared after members of the Royal Black Preceptory defied a Parades Commission ruling and played music outside St Patrick’s on August 25.
Seven police officers sustained injuries during the disturbances.
Meanwhile, residents living in Carrick Hill have spoken of their “fear” about what could unfold come September 29.
One 49-year-old woman, who has lived in the area since 1971, said children were being sent away for the weekend.
“I will be taking part in the protest because I want respect for our community,” the woman, who was too frightened to give her name, said. “We have never had respect, but we coped with it until they started insulting our chapel. They are just laughing about it.
“People are calling us dissident republicans, but we are not,” she added. “There are whole families shipping out on the 29th. That happened years ago on the Twelfth of July and we shouldn’t have to put up with it now.”
Another woman, a mother of nine (58), said: “This protest is strictly Carrick Hill residents and that message has gone out,” she added. “We do not want people coming here to cause trouble.”
The Parades Commission has yet to determine what, if any, restrictions will be put on the contentious parade. In a statement issued last night a spokesman said officials had been “heartened” by the level of local contact ahead of September 29.
He said: “In light of this ... the commission has decided to defer its determination on the parade for a number of days.”
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The Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Association was initially formed to address social and environmental problems in the area and to improve the quality of housing in Carrick Hill. The group played a pivotal role during the 1980s in helping to transform what was the Unity Flats area into the family homes that exist today. Frank Dempsey has been the committee’s longstanding spokesman.
Traders want time limit on marches
By Lesley-Anne McKeown
Business leaders in Belfast have called for a time restriction on Saturday parades to prevent a loss of trade.
Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and Belfast City Centre Management want marches to be finished by midday to ensure that the “core shopping time” is not adversely affected.
“In the current economic climate our retailers simply cannot afford to suffer in this way. We are not calling for parades to be stopped, we are calling for them to be timed to help, as opposed to damage, retail businesses and jobs,” said Paul McMahon, vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, following a meeting with the Parades Commission at Windsor House.
“We have presented hard evidence that the recent Black Institution parade contributed to significant losses for our retailers, losses which will never be recouped.
“Some commissioners seemed shocked at the scale of the lost income. It is our hope that this information will help the Parades Commission when considering all future applications for parades in Belfast city centre on Saturdays.”
The appeal comes as tensions continue to rise ahead of next week’s Ulster Covenant centenary parade where thousands of Orangemen and women are expected to march from Belfast City Hall to Stormont.
Mr McMahon added: “We have had full assurance from the Orange Order that next week’s Ulster Covenant celebration parade will have vacated the city by 1.30pm.”
The delegation have also claimed that last month’s Black Saturday parade — where seven police officers were injured when trouble flared outside St Patrick’s Church — significantly disrupted trading with 20 key retailers reporting a combined loss of £114,000.
Andrew Irvine, Belfast City Centre manager, said that 25% of each week’s trading takes place on a Saturday, from 9am to 6pm with the core shopping time between 1pm and 5pm.