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New Covid restrictions leave Black Saturday parade plans across Northern Ireland in disarray

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The Royal Black Institution parade in Ballygowan last year

The Royal Black Institution parade in Ballygowan last year

The Royal Black Institution parade in Ballygowan last year

Plans for Black Saturday parades across Northern Ireland next week are in disarray following the announcement of new restrictions on the numbers allowed to gather outdoors in close proximity.

Organisers of 75 parades had planned to keep their numbers down to 30 people in line with guidance from the Department of Health.

But Health Minister Robin Swann announced on Thursday that the Executive has agreed to new restrictions cutting the number from 30 to 15.

A number of organisers of the marches have told the Parades Commission they are scrapping their plans, and others are expected to follow, according to a commission spokesman.

"Following the Minister of Health's announcement on 20 August, the commission contacted all parade organisers," the spokesman said.

"A number of organisers confirmed that they wish to cancel their parades, with other organisers expected to do the same.

"The commission is continuing its engagement with organisers. Where parades are greater than 15 participants, the commission will bring these to the attention of the relevant authorities, with responsibility for public health. Enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations is a matter for the PSNI."

Leading members of the Royal Black Institution met yesterday afternoon.

In a statement afterwards a spokesman said: "Following the statement by Health Minister Robin Swann on Thursday 20 August, the senior officers of the Royal Black Institution met to update our guidelines to all preceptories in Northern Ireland.

"With earlier Last Saturday demonstrations having already been cancelled, the officers advised all members and preceptories who may wish to organise Acts of Remembrance on August 29 that they must do so within the 15-person outdoor protocols.

"As has always been the case, the Royal Black Institution advises all its members to fully obey all the NI Executive Regulations as they pertain at any given time.

"In updating our guidelines, the senior officers are aware of those most at risk due to the current pandemic as well as the excellent contribution made by our members to assist wider society in meeting the challenges."

William Scott, Imperial Grand Registrar of the Royal Black Institution, voiced his frustration prior to the meeting.

"One thing we do have to see that would be of help is if (the new guidelines) were put up on the Department of Health website," Mr Scott said.

"We know what he said but we have been around this circuit before and need to know the department actually says, how it is going to operate," he added.

Mr Swann announced that from next week the number of people who can meet together outdoors will be reduced from 30 to 15. Indoor gatherings will be limited to six, from 10.

Belfast Telegraph