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Heed Orange Order advice over parading for sake of all, SDLP MLA urges bands

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160 bands have applied to march on the Twelfth weekend

160 bands have applied to march on the Twelfth weekend

160 bands have applied to march on the Twelfth weekend

A Policing Board member has urged loyalists organising Twelfth parades to listen to the message of the Orange Order leadership.

Dolores Kelly was speaking as more bands signalled their intention to march.

By Friday evening around 160 notifications had been lodged with the Parades Commission for parades between July 11 and 13.

All involve a single band with a maximum of 30 participants, in line with restrictions.

It comes amid growing demands from loyalists to celebrate Eleventh Night bonfires and the Twelfth following the attendance of Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

Pressure mounted on the Sinn Fein vice-president to resign yesterday after her apology for the hurt she caused grieving families was branded a "half apology".

Mrs O'Neill said she would "never apologise" for attending the funeral of a friend.

The PSNI said it is examining footage from the funeral for breaches of the regulations.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson warned that the PSNI risks harming its standing in loyalist and unionist communities if upcoming parades are not policed in the same way.

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Plea: Dolores Kelly

Plea: Dolores Kelly

Liam McBurney

Plea: Dolores Kelly

But SDLP MLA Mrs Kelly urged people not to gather on Monday week when most parades are scheduled.

The traditional parades were cancelled in April when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its height.

But since then restrictions have been relaxed, and up to 30 people are now allowed to meet outdoors while social distancing.

Notifications from bands have flooded in to the Parades Commission this week. It comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the Attorney General had informed the body that it had no power to prevent parades from taking place.

Mrs Kelly urged bands to heed the advice of Rev Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of the Orange Order, who said this week: "Because someone else does wrong doesn't mean we have to follow suit."

The Order has also restated its position that Twelfth parades will not take place this year.

Mrs Kelly said: "The Orange Order has shown leadership and I think it is to be commended for staying strong in what happened in relation to Bobby Storey's funeral.

"Rev Gibson's message has remained consistent this year in the face of a pandemic and a health crisis in which we seek to protect the NHS.

"I would urge bands to follow the leadership in the Order."

The PSNI said it is "aware of discussions taking place" in relation to the Twelfth and will work with partners and stakeholders to "put in place an appropriate and proportionate policing support in place for any events" in line with legislation at the time.

But Mr Bryson said that events this week in west Belfast have posed big questions for the police.

He said that given the PSNI approach when it came to Bobby Storey's funeral, "clearly many in unionist and loyalist communities will be watching closely as to how the PSNI police small, localised band parades in our community".

"If, for example, we were to see heavy PSNI presence... unionist confidence in fair and balanced policing will erode even further," he claimed.

Belfast Telegraph