THERE is “no point” in talking to a residents’ group over a contentious parade at the end of the month.
That is the view from Orange Order spokesman the Rev Mervyn Gibson following demands that, after meetings between the Order and St Patrick’s Catholic Church, its representatives must also now meet with members of a neighbourhood association.
In a statement earlier this week, the church’s parish priest Father Michael Sheehan said he was “bewildered” that the Order would not talk directly with Carrick Hill Residents’ Group.
Mr Gibson has now hit back at him, saying that this amounted to “shifting the goalposts” and was part of a “deliberate attempt” to spoil one of the Province’s most important celebrations.
He said the parish priest could have invited anyone he wanted to the meetings between the Order and the church parishioners.
“We never refused to meet anyone,” he said. “Now there appears to be an additional demand to meet residents.
“There’s no point. For several reasons. We’ve already had quiet conversations with parishioners, listened to what they said, and responded.”
Their response, as reported on Wednesday, was to agree that only hymns would be performed outside St Patrick’s Church on September 29, when 11 bands will march past the church as part of the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant.
The north Belfast church had been the centre of a storm after marchers were accused of deliberately causing offence to Catholics.
The first such incident was on July 12, when a clip appeared on internet site YouTube of the Young Conway Volunteers circling outside the church and apparently playing The Famine Song.
The Parades Commission then banned musical parades past the church – only for marchers to defy that ban on August 25.
Now Mr Gibson said the Orange Order’s decision to stick to hymns was a voluntary gesture of goodwill.
But although he is prepared to offer that token of respect, he added he would not enter “negotiations” over their rights to play.
“We’ll continue to talk to parishioners and the church. That’s where the issue is,” he said.
“There was a request for respect to be shown to the chapel, we talked to parishioners and clergy, and the Grand Lodge issued a statement.
“And yet it doesn’t seem to be good enough. The goalposts seem to be shifting.”
He also said that the Young Conway Volunteers would not be among the bands taking part in the September 29 parade past the church.
Mr Gibson said the Ulster Covenant was “Northern Ireland’s birth certificate” and the centenary celebrations would be some of the most important in recent memory.
“There seems to be a deliberate attempt to destroy the occasion – or to mar the occasion, that’s probably a better word,” he added.
Fr Sheehan’s church was contacted, but at time of writing he had not responded.
The Parades Commission had been due to make a ruling on the Covenant Parades on Wednesday.
But by late afternoon it had issued the statement: “The commission has been heartened by the level of local contact which has taken place so far in advance of the upcoming Ulster Covenant parade on September 29th.
“In light of this and the prospect that there may be opportunity for further local contact, the commission has decided to defer its determination on the parade for a number of days.”