Belfast Covenant parade begins peacefully

 

A contentious Unionist parade passed a Catholic church in Belfast went
off without incident, but residents have accused the marchers of
breaking rules.

More than 2,000 Orangemen from north Belfast lodges were surrounded by a heavy police presence as they marched towards City Hall to take part in a massive loyal order parade to mark the centenary of the signing of the pro-Union Ulster Covenant.

An estimated 30,000 marchers are taking part in the Orange Order march - from the City Hall to the grounds of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont in east Belfast.

Unionists agreed with the Parades Commission to play only hymns along Donegall Street - from the Carrick Hill junction to Royal Avenue - as they passed St Patrick's Church near the city centre.

Locals had requested that no music be played outside the church.

The place of worship has been the scene of disorder at points during the summer after a band was accused of playing sectarian music outside it on July 12.

Protesters and residents claimed the bands breached the rules set by the Parades Commission by playing the most famous Unionist anthem - The Sash - before reaching the end of the stretch.

Carrick Hill Residents Association chairman Frank Dempsey said they had flouted the rules.

"That determination has been smashed," said Mr Dempsey.

"Some of the bands, yes, they did stick by it, there's no problem there. But a number of them bands broke that."

The local man insisted he was not nitpicking over the rules set by the commission.

"You saw the way they danced there with the drum and that's supposed to be a hymn," he said.

But, Father Michael Sheehan, administrator of St Patrick's, said while some of the bands beat their drums exuberantly, he believed they showed respect during the 20-minute march outside the church.

He insisted the talks with the Parades Commission had been fruitful, saying continued dialogue was needed to avoid future trouble.

"They marched with dignity down the road," added Fr Sheehan.

"I think a degree of respect was shown that hasn't been shown before."

Lodges including the Pride of Ardoyne and Pride of the Shore played Abide With Me and Onward Christian Soldiers, as spectators looked on.

Police were on high alert, with up to 50 Land Rovers stationed along the flashpoint at St Patrick's.

The massive parade will finish at Stormont with a cultural festival held to commemorate the 1912 proclamation against plans for Home Rule in Ireland.

Other contentious sections of the participants' journeys to and from the main meeting point at Stormont will also be monitored by police.

The commission has also placed the sacred music restriction on those bands that will pass St Matthew's Catholic Church in Newtownards Road close to Stormont.

Politicians from across the political divide have appealed for calm at the event which is set to be one of the biggest loyal order parades seen in Belfast.

PA

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