Peter Robinson, Mike Nesbitt and Martin McGuinness in parade talks

Band outside St Patrick's Catholic church Bands will only play hymns outside a north Belfast Catholic church

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The leaders of the two main unionist parties have met with the Parades Commission ahead of Saturday's Ulster Covenant Orange Order parade.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness also spoke to the commission on Tuesday.

The commission is expected to issue a ruling on the parade on Wednesday.

In a joint statement, DUP and UUP leaders Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt urged all those attending the parade to behave with "dignity and honour".

They said those protesting against it should do so in a lawful manner.

Mr McGuinness said it was "hugely disappointing that the Orange Order "continue to choose to disrespect the residents of Carrick Hill by refusing to enter into dialogue with them".

"Now is the time for political leaders to step forward and show leadership to ensure Saturday goes off peacefully," he added.

"Now is not the time of intemperate or inflammatory language."

The march on 29 September is part of events marking 100 years since the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

The Order previously said bands taking part in the parade would only play hymns when passing a Catholic Church where trouble flared last month.

The decision follows talks with clergy and parishioners of St Patrick's Church in north Belfast and community leaders.

In August, bands defied a ruling banning music at the church. In the subsequent riots, seven police officers were injured.

Start Quote

We would not expect to see more protesters on Saturday than there are residents in Carrick Hill.”

End Quote Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt

In their statement, Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt said: "As only a small section of the main parade is due to pass St Patrick's Church, we would encourage the many thousands who will want to watch the main parade to do so at vantage points at the City Hall and along the main parade route.

"Only those who are involved in the parade passing St Patrick's Church need be in that particular vicinity."

They also appealed to those protesting against the parade.

History

"Just as the Orange Order is responsible for the conduct of the parade, so too are the Carrick Hill protest organisers responsible for the conduct of all those on protest," they said.

"Given that there are only a few hundred who live in the area, we would not expect to see more protesters on Saturday than there are residents in Carrick Hill."

Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, has told the Dail it is particularly important that there is local engagement before Saturday's parade.

He said criticising the Parades Commission was a distraction from the fact that there should be no more incidents, similar to those recently.

He again stressed the need to combat sectarianism and improve community relations.

The Ulster Covenant was signed by just under half a million men and women, on and before 28 September 1912, in protest against the Third Home Rule Bill, which would have brought in an Irish parliament with responsibility for Irish domestic affairs.

Sir Edward Carson - a lawyer from Dublin and leader of the Irish Unionists - was the first person to sign the Covenant at the Belfast City Hall.

Signatories pledged to use "all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Dublin".

It it is seen as one of the key events in unionism.

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