An annual Orange Order parade through a north Belfast flashpoint passed off peacefully yesterday despite the presence of protestors and police.
Some 400 Orangemen and four bands started their parade at around 1.45pm from Florence Place, passing along Donegall Street as they made their way to York Road and Alexandra Presbyterian Church. They returned the same way starting from 4.15pm. It is understood that only hymns were played as they passed a flashpoint on Donegall Street, a scene of violence and tensions during the summer.
Tempers soared in July when Sinn Fein videoed a Protestant band marching in circles outside St Patrick’s [Roman Catholic] Church, allegedly playing a sectarian tune. However, the bandsmen argued that the church was closed at the time and that it was normal practice to march in circles when a parade has ground to a halt due to delays further down the route. They argued that the tune they played had been a Beach Boys hit.
In August seven police officers were injured at the same location in tensions surrounding a Royal Black Institution parade.
Yesterday there were some 60 members of Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ Committee protesting against the Orange parade, with what one onlooker described as a “heavy” police presence in the area.
A spokesman for the Orange Order commented: “The Orangemen paraded with respect and dignity to and from a place of worship to commemorate the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.”
It has previously been reported that the Orange Order met with leadership of St Patrick’s Church during several sessions to which the residents’ association was invited.
However, it was reported that the residents declined to attend those meetings and requested their own meetings with the Order, talks which have not taken place to date.
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said he observed all of yesterday’s parade.
“It went off peacefully and there was a marked improvement in the behaviour of the bandsmen and Orangemen,” he said.
“The police operation was substantially reduced and the protest also deliberately reduced. This parade produced a positive context for the next two parades, on November 10 and at the beginning of December, both of which are Apprentice Boys parades.”
Meanwhile, the Apprentice Boys have declined to comment on reports that they have met with residents in the same area. On Saturday the Irish News reported that members of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ Committee and a four-man delegation from the Apprentice Boys held secret talks at a north Belfast community centre.
The Governor of the Apprentice Boys, Jim Brownlee, last night told the News Letter that he could not confirm or deny that the talks took place.
“Our clubs are completely at liberty to meet local residents if they feel it is appropriate to them,” he said. “I am not at liberty to say whether or not the meeting took place.”
The information from the Irish News report did not come from the Apprentice Boys, he said.
Mr Brownlee said that earlier in the year there had been talk about “quiet conversations” being necessary in order to defuse tensions in the area.
“We have a remembrance parade on November 10 passing through this area and will do everything within our power to make sure it passes off peacefully,” he said. “I am not privy to any talks that Belfast clubs may have with local groups.”
On Thursday Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said that he had had his first face-to-face meetings with senior Orange Order members. He said a key issue he had discussed with the Order had been the behaviour of some of the associated bands.
The Orange Order later confirmed the meeting had taken place.
“Grand Lodge can confirm representatives from Portadown District have met with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to discuss issues concerning the Drumcree parade,” it said.