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Royal Black Institution's Last Saturday marks end of annual marching season

The Royal Black Institution brought the marching season to a close on Saturday as 17,000 Sir Knights took part in the annual Last Saturday parades.

Demonstrations by 370 preceptories of the senior of the loyal order were held throughout Northern Ireland, the largest of which was in Rathfriland, Co Down.

The town hosted a march by 106 preceptories accompanied by 80 bands.

Sovereign Grand Master of the order, Millar Farr, addressed around 3,000 “Blackmen” following their parade in Ballyclare, Co Antrim.

The morning parade in Belfast was met with two small protests by nationalist residents as it made its way along Donegall and Clifton Street.

The return parade on Saturday evening passed off without incident.

Stormont culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin stood with one group of protesters opposite St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street and claimed bands had breached a Parades Commission ruling.

"We have had further breaches today of Parades Commission rulings on marches going past St Patrick's.”, she said.

"In particular the decision by a band to play the Famine Song near the chapel was a real provocation.”

The Sinn Fein MLA added: "Despite this it remains my opinion that a resolution can be found in talks between the loyal orders and local people on the problems associated with this part of the route.

"I don't think its unreasonable for the loyal orders to accept that supporters should not accompany the march between Stanhope Street and Union Street or play music on this small section of the route.

"Such a move would in my opinion go a long way to deal with residents' concerns about this part of the route which includes St Patrick's Church.

"I am calling on the loyal orders to show some leadership and demonstrate that they want to resolve this issue.

"Dialogue threatens no one and I'm calling on people in the loyal orders to grasp the nettle and work towards a solution on parades on this area."

In 2012 the Royal Black Institution issued an apology after loyalist bands breached a Parades Commission ruling by playing music while marching past the church.

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