Northern Ireland

Residents urge peaceful protest at Covenant parade

Edward Carson was first to sign the Ulster Covenant at Belfast City Hall in 1912
Image caption Edward Carson was first to sign the Ulster Covenant at Belfast City Hall in 1912

Nationalist residents have called for a peaceful protest during Saturday's Ulster Covenant parade in Belfast.

About 100 Carrick Hill residents held talks on Thursday evening to air their concerns.

The Parades Commission ruled that only hymns are to be played as the parade passes St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street.

Frank Dempsey, of the residents' group, said while they did not agree with the ruling, they would abide by it.

He said he did not want people from outside the area joining the protest.

"We will have a dignified protest on Saturday," he said.

"We are sending a clear message out to people; if they do come here, they abide by the wishes of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents' Committee."

Image caption Frank Dempsey said residents would abide by the Parades Commission ruling

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly who was at the meeting said everyone supported Mr Dempsey.

"He has the whole district behind him. He has said he doesn't want trouble, the residents have said they don't want trouble," said Mr Kelly.

"When you get a circumstance like that, you've that type of unity, then anyone who might consider coming here looking for trouble, will know that they will not be welcome."

On Wednesday, the commission also ruled that there should be no loyalist supporters on the section of the route, while the numbers of nationalist protesters have been limited to 150.

A resident from Carrick Hill is to go to court on Friday to seek a judicial review of the ruling.

The Orange Order expects up to 30,000 marchers to take part in the event.

Earlier, it emerged that the Orange Order had changed its policy on talking to residents' groups to discuss contentious parades.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland confirmed that it decided formally in March that "flexibility be allowed over engagement at a local level".

This means lodges can decide whether to talk to residents' groups in their area to seek agreement over parades.

Previously, the Order's policy was not to engage directly with "Sinn Fein-backed residents groups".

On Wednesday, Mervyn Gibson, the county grand chaplain of the Orange Order, said the organisation did not rule out talking to residents' groups in Belfast in the future to resolve parading issues.

David McNarry, who is a former assistant grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said: "The Grand Lodge has empowered any district, putting forward a reasonable case to enter into discussions on a localised basis on local issues, to do so if it feels comfortable."

"The best people to do this are the people on the ground."

Reverend Mervyn Gibson said making sure the 29 September parade passed off peacefully was the priority.

Last month, seven police officers were injured when trouble broke out after several loyalist bands defied a Parades Commission ruling by playing music as they marched past the church.

The Royal Black Institution, which had organised the 25 August parade, later apologised "for any offence caused" to clergy and parishioners at St Patrick's.

In an open letter, it said its anger was not directed at the Catholic church.

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