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Unionists urged to stay united as thousands gather in Belfast to celebrate NI centenary

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Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

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Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Getty Images

Michael Stone at the parade in the grounds of Stormont

Michael Stone at the parade in the grounds of Stormont

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Crowds: The Northern Ireland Centenary parade which took place on Saturday, starting from Stormont buildings. Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Parades, partying and the Protocol were on the minds of the tens of thousands of unionists who gathered in Belfast on Saturday to celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland.

More than 120,000 spectators, marchers and band members thronged Belfast city centre on Saturday to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921.

Revellers were upbeat as they celebrated, but the post-Brexit paralysis of Stormont — blamed by unionists on the Northern Ireland Protocol placing a trade border in the Irish Sea — was never far from the thoughts of speakers.
Orange Order Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson appealed for unity within unionism, and suggested that “compromise” might be necessary to secure the stability of Northern Ireland.

“We do not live in a world as we would like it to be. We live in a world in the reality of today, with its challenges for this generation,” he told the crowd.


But he was less compromising on the Brexit deal. “Not one unionist politician, not one, believes the protocol is good for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The majority of unionists have voted that political unionism do not join an executive until the wrongs lurking in the protocol are rooted out and thrown out.

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“Let us make it very simple for our European neighbours, not least those on the other side of the border in the Republic of Ireland.

“Two key elements must go, no tweaking, no tampering, no fudge, no constructive ambiguity, no excuses.

“We will not tolerate any system, process or structure that will allow checks on any goods trading within the UK for use within the UK.

“No fundamental change to the protocol, then no functioning Assembly.”

He said the “cry to those who seek to persuade us, protocol or push us into a United Ireland, is still the same, no surrender”.

The parade left Stormont at around 1.20pm, before making its way towards Belfast City Hall where marchers were greeted by Grand Master of the Orange Order, Edward Stevenson.

Among those watching was convicted loyalist mass murderer Michael Stone, who was previously stopped from carrying out a murderous attack on Sinn Fein leaders at Stormont in 2006.

Stone was released from prison on parole in January 2021.


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