Orange Order claim over parades
The Orange Order claims to have taken measures to ease sectarian tensions on the streets of Belfast.
With the first of the potentially troublesome parades next week, in the aftermath of serious disturbances in the city linked to loyalist protests over the lowering of the Union flag, the leadership said they had made a significant effort to ensure the marches pass off peacefully.
The Rev Mervyn Gibson, Orange Order county grand chaplain, said: "There has been much speculation over the possibility of violence during the summer emanating from opposition to Loyal Order parades. The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast's position is clear: along with our community we wish to celebrate and commemorate our history peaceably and traditionally, we do not seek violence. Neither do we subscribe to the view that violence is inevitable this year."
The proposals for a peaceful summer do not include direct dialogue with nationalist residents' groups opposed to loyalist parades. "Once we do something it is never enough. Once we talk to someone we have a new residents' group. Only yesterday we had another new residents' group set up in the community so what group do we talk to? It is not as simple as saying just stop and everything will be rosy. That is not the case," added Mr Gibson.
"I have to question what is the opposition about. Is it really just that they don't want a Protestant, a unionist or a loyalist about the place? Equally there are people there with genuine concerns. We seek to address those and that is why we have a platform on which to move forward."
The Orange Order has focused its attention on a flashpoint outside St Patrick's Catholic Church near Belfast city centre.
Last year the Orange Order was forced to apologise after a band from the Shankill area was filmed playing a sectarian song and marching in circles outside the church during a Twelfth of July procession. Seven police officers were also injured when disorder flared following a Royal Black Preceptory parade.
It has been proposed that during next week's Tour of the North, next month's Twelfth of July, and the Royal Black Preceptory parade in August, the lead band will play a hymn while passing the church. Other bands will play what the Orange Order has deemed respectful music.
Parades will not be allowed to stop outside the church, supporters will be kept to one side of the street and the parades will be marshalled. Funerals, weddings and regular church services will also be facilitated, the Orange Order said. George Chittick, county grand master of Belfast, said the Loyal Orders had worked hard to develop the measures.
However, Sinn Fein said the Loyal Orders could go further. North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said: "Last year the Orange Order said that local lodges were free to enter into dialogue with local communities. This happened in Crumlin last July with an agreed outcome as a result but has not been replicated anywhere else. Today's statement by the Orange Order speaks of goodwill and of building a platform. So the next logical step is immediate dialogue with residents."