Arlene Foster has urged loyalists to stick to the rules in the wake of Michelle O’Neill’s controversial appearance alongside thousands of mourners at an IRA veteran’s funeral — warning that “two wrongs don’t make a right”.
he Parades Commission has been deluged by march applications from bands after the Deputy First Minister joined throngs of republicans at IRA man Bobby Storey’s funeral.
Rival politicians have called on Ms O’Neill to resign after she was accused of breaching the coronavirus regulations she had previously endorsed.
First Minister Mrs Foster called on her to apologise, but as bands took to the streets again on Wednesday night, both the DUP leader and Orange Order urged the public not to follow them.
More than 50 band parades are planned across Northern Ireland to mark the Twelfth — with more expected to be announced in the coming days.
The Parades Commission has been swamped with notifications from bands outlining their intention to march on July 13.
By 7pm on Wednesday night the body’s website had 53 proposed parades listed.
In each case it relates to a parade by one band with a maximum of 30 participants.
A small number of bands also plan to march on July 11 and July 12, which this year falls on a Sunday.
A community group in Larne has said it is planning an Eleventh Night bonfire.
On Wednesday the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland restated its position that Twelfth parades will not take place this year.
It said it was aware some bands were applying for parades within their communities for the purpose of entertaining people in their gardens and at their front doors.
Last night a handful of parades — each involving a single band — took place across Northern Ireland to mark the anniversary of the Somme. They included parades in Belfast, Bangor, Newtownards and Mid Ulster.
The Parades Commission had said it is now accepting notifications after the Executive said up to 30 people can gather outdoors after lockdown restrictions were relaxed.
Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph revealed the Attorney General had informed the body that it had no power to prevent parades from taking place.
Some have called for parades and Eleventh Night bonfires to go ahead after the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey saw thousands of people line the streets of west Belfast on Tuesday.
A picture posted on social media, which has since been deleted, showed Michelle O’Neill, who has denied the funeral broke the health regulations, posing for a selfie close to two men, one of whom had his arm on her shoulder. She has admitted it was a mistake.
The PSNI has said it is examining footage from the funeral for breaches of the regulations.
First Minister Arlene Foster said she accepted the presence of the Deputy First Minister, along with several other senior Sinn Fein figures, at the funeral had created a problem for the Orange Order.
On Wednesday it repeated its message for people to celebrate at home.
The Orange Order announced in April that it would be cancelling demonstrations this year due to the pandemic.
Mrs Foster said: “I think a lot of people will look at that (funeral) and ask why have we been restricting ourselves.
“I have to say the leadership of the Orange Order, and indeed the Black Preceptory and the Apprentice Boys, have been very clear — that they want to protect the community they live in. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Community groups also appear to be making plans to hold Eleventh Night bonfires.
The PSNI is set to meet with a representative of Craigyhill Community Group in Larne after it posted on Facebook that it was holding a bonfire and had been making “500 kids packs” for the event.
Rev Mervyn Gibson, grand secretary of the Orange Order, said the official position of the organisation has not changed in light of Mr Storey’s funeral.
“The Orange Order cancelled the Twelfth of July so as not to bring crowds onto the streets, because crowds spread coronavirus,” he told this newspaper.
Describing the large crowds at Mr Storey’s funeral as “wrong”, Mr Gibson added: “Because someone else does wrong doesn’t mean we have to follow suit.
“We have the health of our membership and the whole of Northern Ireland to prioritise.”
He stressed the Order holds the same position on bonfires, adding people understand that crowds should not gather in groups larger than 30.
In a statement, the Orange Order said it is aware parades are intending to march adhering to the social distancing guidelines “for the purpose of entertaining people in their gardens and at their front doors”.
“Bands have rightly asked members of the public not to follow them. Instead, they have encouraged a ‘stay at home’ message with the band bringing music to them. This is a model the institution would support as it complements our ‘Twelfth at Home’ campaign.”
The Order said its “position has been consistent — we have sought to protect the health of not only our members, but the whole community in Northern Ireland”.
“Unfortunately, others supposedly in positions of authority, by their recent actions have not shown the same leadership or concern for public health,” it added.
Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, who represented several bands which had been previously ordered by the Parades Commission to withdraw their notifications, said the PSNI must not “aggressively police” upcoming parades. “The Executive has no moral authority and many in the loyalist community are fed up with the perception it is one rule for republicans and quite another for loyalists,” he said.
The PSNI said it is “aware of discussions taking place in relation to celebrations around 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.
The Parades Commission said that parades are “subject to Covid-19 regulations”, the enforcement of which is a matter for the Executive and PSNI.