Priest hits out at marchers
The priest of a Catholic church at the centre of a series of controversies involving loyal order marches has accused members of the Royal Black Institution of disrespectful behaviour at a weekend parade.
St Patrick's Church near the nationalist Carrick Hill area of central Belfast has been the focus of a number of incidents during the last year, with members of some bands accompanying loyal order events accused of playing provocative or sectarian music as they pass by.
The incidents have seen the Parades Commission adjudication body place tight restrictions on subsequent parades, including on the type of music played.
Father Michael Sheehan of St Patrick's claimed the Royal Black feeder parade that yesterday passed the church and the wider Carrick Hill area en route to and from main demonstrations elsewhere witnessed further infractions, among them the playing of the traditional loyalist song - the Sash - and the passing of the church when an evening service was ongoing.
Fr Sheehan acknowledged the event was peaceful, but he added: "It was disappointing and disheartening that the Royal Black Preceptory consider that the playing of the "Sash" as they march past residents of Carrick Hill and through this community of St Patrick's was respectful.
"The playing of loud music as they pass in front of St Patrick's Church during divine worship is definitely not respectful. It is not conducive to the building of respect, trust and confidence between the communities of this city. It does not win the respect or trust of the congregation of this church. This particular breach of codes of practice is beyond comprehension.
"It is difficult not to interpret such actions on the part of the Loyal Orders as a failure at any real attempt to resolve the issues around the contentious parades as they pass St Patrick's Church and its community.
"This failure is made worse by continual and persistent breaches of the determinations of the Parades Commission in relation to Church services.
"I would like to hope that the Loyal Orders would address the serious issues of respect through dialogue and strive to reduce tension in areas of the city rather than inflame them by such displays of disrespect for the rule of law and good civic relations between citizens, organisations and communities.
"It is to be regretted that the PSNI allowed the procession of the parade and bands to pass the Church during the celebration of the Eucharist from 7pm to 7.45pm, although the PSNI may have presumed that no music would have been played in accordance with the determination. In light of this breach of the template of some Loyal Orders and the Parades Commission determination, I believe that the PSNI should in future ensure that any further parades would wait until the Celebration of the Eucharist has ended."
Sinn Fein Assembly member Caral Ni Chuilin has also criticised the parade, alleging among other things that a protester was spat at.
She described the event as "an exercise in sectarian coat trailing through a nationalist area."
Royal Black members congregated at six major demonstrations across Northern Ireland yesterday in a day known as "Last Saturday". Events were staged at Ballyronan in Londonderry, Banbridge, Ballymoney, Newtownards, Dungannon and Castlederg.
A spokesman for the Royal Black Institution denied there had been any major adverse incidents during the day.
"More than 18,000 people took part in demonstrations in six towns across Northern Ireland, with thousands watching, and it should be recognised that there were no major incidents," he said.
"This should be seen as a significant step forward."