The Twelfth: Northern Ireland Parades Commission condemned in speeches
Huge crowds line the streets at 18 venues as Orange grand master accuses commission of ‘unending discrimination’ over its restrictions on marches
The Orange Institution is an "integral part of the cultural fabric of this country - and is flourishing", Grand Master Edward Stevenson has said.
The Orange Order chief made the comments as he addressed the Twelfth demonstration at Limavady yesterday and 18 major parades took place in towns and villages across Northern Ireland.
Thousands of people lined the streets as brethren and women's lodges stepped out in time with hundreds of bands dressed in brightly coloured uniforms and playing flutes, accordions and even silver instruments in some locations, with the familiar sound of the Lambeg drum augmenting many.
The parades made their way to demonstration fields for refreshments and to hear speeches made by some of the most high profile figures in the Orange Order.
Mr Stevenson lashed the Parades Commission during his address in Limavady.
He said the "unending institutional discrimination by the Parades Commission" needed to be addressed.
He also spoke of his pride at the size of the Twelfth celebrations this year.
"On the 326th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, tens of thousands are once again maintaining a long-standing tradition and expressing their cultural heritage in a manner befitting of the occasion," he said.
"Surely there is no other event on these islands that can bring such huge numbers of people on to the streets to enjoy our parades, either by taking part or simply to watch them go by?"
This year the entire Whiterock parade was barred from passing through the Workman Avenue gates in June, while the impasses at Ardoyne and Drumcree have still not been resolved.
Mr Stevenson said the institution will continue its campaign for the current parading legislation to be replaced.
Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning praised those involved in weekly protests at Drumcree during his address to the Portadown demonstration. Last Sunday a number of brethren stayed 11 minutes past the Parades Commission deadline in protest at continuing to be barred from completing their parade.
"As a district it is now almost 20 years since you have been able to complete the return parade from Drumcree Parish Church at your annual service," he said.
"I commend the officers for their efforts on mediation and their offer to talk to the residents through facilitators which has unfortunately been met with no response.
"The Parades Commission continues to make ludicrous decisions against our traditional processions. The current legislation needs to be replaced with fair and equal laws."
In Donaghadee, Grand Lodge services and outreach manager David Scott spoke of maintaining heritage. "The world is a changing place and not everyone in society can accept or tolerate the heritage that we have on display today," he said.
"Some would much prefer if would just take ourselves off the streets to a big green field somewhere and have our day away from the public eye. Others would prefer if we would just pack up our cultural baggage and move on, denying us our place in civic society.
"Our forefathers had to stand up against intolerance. They too had to defend their place in society so that we could have our place here today.
"We have a rich heritage, a cultural tradition like no other and one that other countries would love to have as a cultural tourist product."
In Dromore, Co Down, Grand Master Samuel Walker said this year's celebrations are marked with sadness as this is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
He said: "This year, whilst one of celebration for Her Majesty, is also marked with sadness and remembrance as we take a moment to remember all those young men, many of whom were members of our institution, who without waver answered the call to serve King and Country 100 years ago."