A fresh row broke out last night on the eve of the annual Tour of the North Orange Order parade in Belfast.
Tonight’s event has already been the subject of attention after the Parades Commission determined only a single drumbeat could be played along the Donegall Street section of the route.
Earlier this week the Orange Order said it was disappointed that the drumbeat condition had been imposed despite an offer to play only sacred music close to St Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Then, last night, Orange chaplain the Rev Mervyn Gibson accused Sinn Fein of “a new escalation of spreading parade disputes” by objecting to the parade passing along Duncairn Gardens.
The Rev Gibson said Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly was “upping the ante” ahead of an event that has been free from serious protest-related violence for many years.
“We usually get some stone-throwing and name- calling from nationalists along there but the last serious trouble was eight years ago when the parade was attacked, so this is a new escalation of spreading parade disputes for whatever selfish reason Sinn Fein has for doing this.
“We will be planning for a peaceful parade along there as we always do.
“We have to trust that people will try to stop the usual stone-throwing and name-calling,” the Rev Gibson said.
“I have taken part in the parade where the stones have come over the top of the houses, but the name-calling takes place at the junction of North Queen Street.
“If people want to protest they should do it peacefully, but why is he (Gerry Kelly) choosing now to escalate the parading issues?” he asked.
There had been hope of improved relations around parades in north Belfast after a delegation of senior Orange Order members met with Bishop Noel Treanor – and St Patrick’s parish priest Fr Michael Sheehan – on Tuesday.
Afterwards, both delegations agreed the meeting had proved beneficial in developing “mutual respect and understanding” and further engagements are expected to take place.
Commenting on the single drumbeat determination, the Rev Gibson said: “We said we would play only hymns, and the priest said he would welcome the playing of hymns, so we can’t fathom the thinking of the Parades Commission.”
The original parade application, requesting permission to use a route including the Cliftonville Road, was rejected but a revised application using a modified route was given the go-ahead yesterday.
In a statement released following the revised commission ruling, Mr Kelly said there should be dialogue between the Order and residents.
He said: “The last thing the people of north Belfast need is the further raising of tensions with parades on Duncairn Gardens when an alternative route is used on the outward bound part of this parade.”