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Calls for safe, socially distanced July 12 celebrations

The large parades which the Orange Order traditionally stage every July 12 have been cancelled due to social distancing rules.

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Bonfires are a tradition on July 11 (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bonfires are a tradition on July 11 (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bonfires are a tradition on July 11 (Brian Lawless/PA)

There have been calls for safe, socially distanced July 12 events as bonfires continue to be built and band parades are planned despite social distancing rules.

The huge parades traditionally staged by the Orange Order have been cancelled, with members and supporters instead urged to celebrate at home.

However, bonfires which are traditionally lit on July 11 are being built, and the Parades Commission has received more than 250 notifications of planned processions.

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A bonfire on the Newtownards Road in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

A bonfire on the Newtownards Road in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

A bonfire on the Newtownards Road in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

Health Minister Robin Swann has encouraged the following of public health advice.

“2020 marks the 330th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne and under any normal circumstances it should have been a time for celebration and social gatherings,” he said.

“However this year is different, and as the virus still lingers it still presents a threat to all in society, but especially the most vulnerable.

“So I would urge everyone – bands, lodges and supporters – to support the Twelfth at home.”

Some bonfire structures in Belfast had previously been cleared with the agreement of the local community, however, since the row over the attendance of deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill among hundreds at the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey, piles of wood for bonfires have reappeared.

Mr Swann added: “People may feel angry at the actions of others, but I would urge you all not to let others set your standards.

“Coronavirus doesn’t recognise good intentions or moral stances, but it can bring devastation to families. So despite the selfish actions of some I would urge everyone else to stick with the public health guidance.”

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister commended the decision of the Orange Order to cancel parades and called for no large social gatherings.

“While in normal times we would love to see a large turnout of Orangemen and bands to celebrate the civil and religious liberties secured at the Boyne, this year keeping within the guidance is key if we are to disappoint our critics in republicanism and the media,” he said.

“Having forgone the celebration for the public good, let us look forward to them coming back more colourful, bigger and louder than ever before for 2021 when we can mark the centenary of Northern Ireland in style.”

PA