Northern Ireland

Q&A: How St Patrick's became a flashpoint

Why has St Patrick's church become a flashpoint?

There has been an annual protest against Orangemen parading past the nationalist Carrick Hill area, and down the non-residential Donegall Street in which St Patrick's stands, for some years but no major disturbances.

Image caption The Young Conway Volunteers caused controversy outside St Patrick's church on 12 July

On 12 July, a loyalist band taking part in the annual Orange parade in Belfast was filmed marching in a circle outside the church, playing The Famine Song, an anti-Catholic song judged racist by a court in Scotland.

The band, the Young Conway Volunteers, said they were entertaining watching supporters while the parade was at a temporary halt and that they had not been aware they were outside a Catholic church.

They maintained they were playing Sloop John B, a Beach Boys song.

The incident was filmed by a Sinn Fein activist.

What was the reaction?

The Parades Commission described the incident as "totally inappropriate".

Sinn Fein's Conor Maskey said it was "deeply provocative."

DUP MLA and Orange Order member Nelson McCausland said that while the actions of the band were "thoughtless and naive" it did not deliberately set out to offend.

"It was just an empty building. There was no-one there to be provoked," he said.

What happened next?

Image caption Bands defied a ban on playing music while passing St Patrick's Catholic Church

As part of a determination on a Royal Black Preceptory march on 25 August, the Parades Commission banned the Young Conway Volunteers band from marching past St Patrick's Church.

The 32 other bands taking part were restricted to playing a single drum beat while passing the church.


On 25 August, the Young Conway Volunteers and some of the other bands defied the rulings of the Parades Commission.

Disturbances followed and several arrests were made.

The reaction to these events?

Nelson McCausland has said the actions of loyalist bands in Belfast on Saturday were "almost inevitable" given the "anger" felt about the Parades Commission.

Loyalists have accused the commission of bias and said restrictions on their parades had grown in number and severity.

The leaders of the two main Protestant churches in Northern Ireland criticised the actions of the loyalist bands as "sectarian".

A number of leading unionists put their names to a letter describing the Parades Commission's ban on the YCV band as "monstrous".

Administrator of St Patrick's Church, Fr Michael Sheehan, said of the 25 August events: "There seemed to be a lot of anger and rage that there was so much disrespect shown to our place of worship."