PRIESTS and parishioners of a Catholic Church at the centre of a parading row in Belfast have invited the leadership of one of the Loyal Orders to talks.
With tens of thousands of Orangemen due on the streets of the city at the end of the month for a march to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant, they have asked to meet with the Royal Black Institution.
The parade is due to pass St Patrick’s Church in Donegall Street, where loyalist bandsmen defied a Parades Commission ruling not to play music on their way to a rally last month.
The Institution later apologised for the behaviour following three nights of violence in neighbouring Protestant streets which left scores of police officers injured. The Orange Order backed the gesture.
The church administrator, Father Michael Sheehan, said a meeting would allow them to share hopes for a peaceful future.
In a letter to William Farr, the Royal Black Institution’s Sovereign Grand Master, he said: “The people of north Belfast have suffered terribly over many years because of attitudes and actions that often resulted in violence which furthered social and economic disadvantage for both Protestants and Catholics.
“A legacy of this painful past remains in sectarian and intolerant attitudes which at times manifest themselves in wasteful and destructive violence and disorder.
“It is my earnest hope that working together with others of goodwill, we can turn the sad events of recent weeks into an opportunity to create a better future for all.
“I believe that by responding to the best in each of us, and in our traditions and cultures, we can bring about a new atmosphere of ease and mutual respect in which everyone can flourish.
“My belief that this can be achieved has been greatly strengthened by the open support for your letter from the Orange Order.
“I believe a unique opportunity now presents itself for us to work together with all concerned parties to bring about a more peaceful future.
“We have an opportunity to demonstrate with generosity and goodwill that it is possible to reach local agreement on challenging issues on the basis of dialogue, mutual Christian respect and trust.
“To that end I would like to extend an open invitation to you or representatives to come and meet with me, my fellow clergy and parishioners in the near future.
“We are anxious to discuss more fully recent events and to share our hopes with you about a future based on peace and mutual respect.”
The commemoration parade is due to take place on September 29. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are already involved in behind-the-scenes talks in a bid to ease tensions in advance of the parade.