Loyal orders and Protestant marching bands inject £55m into the Northern Ireland economy every year, a report funded by Department for Social Development has found.
The DSD said yesterday that it was approached by the Orange Order to help fund the £40,000 report as it is the department responsible for the voluntary and community sector.
DSD Minister Nelson McCausland, a member of the Orange Order, said: "I am very pleased that my department has funded this very important piece of research which highlights the many benefits that the parading sector brings to Northern Ireland.
"For the first time we now have extensive, robust and independently collected data on the social and economic impact the sector delivers to our society." The report by consultants RSM McClure Watters has drawn criticism over the cost of policing contentious parades – £7.4m last year – with the negative impact on tourism and potential investment "incalculable", according to Sinn Fein.
Belfast Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile said: "This report does not take into account the mass exodus of people from the North during the height of the 'marching season' or the amount of people put off from coming here by the associated trouble linked to those few controversial parades," he said. "The cost of this negative image is incalculable."
The economic and social benefits listed include a £39m contribution to community facilities – with its network of 750 Orange halls – and a £15m direct spend on band regalia and transport.
The loyal orders provide approximately 750 halls across Northern Ireland and 6,000 groups use them on a regular basis, contributing £39m to community facilities.
• £1.1m is spent on band regalia and uniforms.
• £13.9m is spent on transport.
• £1.3m is spent on instruments.
• £59,600 is spent on maintaining Orange arches.
• £1.5m is spent on outside catering.