Parades Commission rules on Ulster Covenant Orange Order parade

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

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The Parades Commission has issued its ruling on Saturday's Ulster Covenant parade.

Only hymns are to be played as bands pass St Patrick's Church in north Belfast and no loyalist supporters are to accompany the parade there.

A planned nationalist protest at the church is to number no more than 150 people, the commission has ruled.

The Orange Order has estimated 25,000 to 30,000 marchers will descend on Belfast city centre for the parade.

About 2,000 marchers will take part in the feeder parade which is due to go past St Patrick's Church.

The Orange Order previously said bands taking part in the parade would only play hymns when passing the Catholic church on Donegall Street.

On 12 July a band was filmed marching in a circle outside the church, playing a tune perceived to be sectarian during a delay in the main Orange Order parade.

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

The Commission's ruling on hymns and supporters applies between the junction of the Westlink and Clifton Street and the junction of Donegall Street and Clifton Street.

Among other conditions imposed are that there will be no undue stoppages or delays and no paramilitary displays.

Only hymns are to be played when another feeder parade passes St Matthew's Catholic Church in east Belfast.

The nationalist Carrick Hill Residents Association is seeking legal advice with a view to a possible judicial review of the commission's determination.

Its chairman Frank Dempsey said they were "disappointed and bewildered" by the determination.

"We see no reason not to abide by this, although disappointed. We are seeking legal advice on why this determination came about," he added.

Parish priest of St Patrick's, Fr Michael Sheehan, said it was "unfortunate and regrettable" that there had not been direct talks between the Orange Order and the residents.

He added: "In the absence of local agreement the Parades Commission has now made their determination about this parade.

"It is incumbent on all law abiding citizens to adhere to their determination."

In a statement, the Orange Order said: "The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland notes the Parades Commission determination regarding its parade on Saturday 29 September in Belfast.

"The institution will do everything possible to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant with respect and dignity."

North Belfast MP, the DUP's Nigel Dodds, said: "I think the decision to have hymns, sacred music, played outside St Patrick's is a sensible decision.

"That's something the Orange Order and parade organisers should be congratulated upon, because they took the initiative in terms of quiet conversations and all due respect and congratulations to those who took part in those conversations with them."

Orange appeal

Earlier, the Orange Order said it did not want the dispute around St Patrick's Church to be the focus of the day.

It said the event will be one of the biggest it has organised.

Marchers and bands will meet at Belfast City Hall and then march to Stormont.

It is thought it will take two hours for all those involved to get through the gates.

The order has said it wants the day to remain peaceful and has urged anyone not involved in the feeder parade to stay away from the Donegall Street area.

Unionist commemoration

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

The Covenant was signed by just under half a million men and women, on and before 28 September 1912.

It was signed 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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