Tour of the North passes without major incident

A major Orange Order parade in north Belfast passed off without disorder despite a tense atmosphere at times.

The Parades Commission had ruled that bands could play only a single drumbeat as they passed St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Donegall Street and the determination was complied with.

The Tour of the North  parades moves down Donegal Street without trouble

The Tour of the North parades moves down Donegal Street without trouble

However, a spokesman for the nationalist Carrick Hill residents’ group said the bands resumed playing before they were clear of the prohibited area on Friday night.

In a statement released after the parade, an Orange Order spokesman said its members behaved impeccably.

“Despite the unrelenting efforts of the Parades Commission to demonise the Orange Institution and the blatant intolerance of republicans to our parades, we are glad the annual event passed off peacefully.

“While others focused on exacerbating tensions ahead of this longstanding procession; Orangemen, women and bands paraded with dignity and demonstrated respect.”

The spokesman added: “We thank our supporters and look forward to celebrating our culture and heritage in a peaceful and traditional manner over the coming weeks.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly had been accused by a senior Orangeman of raising tensions ahead of the Tour of the North event by objecting to the inclusion of Duncairn Gardens on the parade route.

Belfast County Chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said the fresh objection, while there was an ongoing dispute over the Donegall Street section, amounted to “upping the ante”.

Rev Gibson said it was “a new escalation of spreading parade disputes” by Sinn Fein.

Nationalist residents staged protests at both Duncairn Gardens and Carrick Hill and there was a noticeable police presence.

Speaking to a News Letter reporter at Carrick Hill, residents’ spokesman Frank Dempsey said: “The [Parades Commission] determination was broke without fear of contradiction, but let’s be fair, not all bands broke the determination.

“When the main parade came down you had the MLAs at the front - they went by not a problem, but three bands later they started playing early.”

Earlier this week a delegation of senior Orange Order members met with Bishop Noel Treanor and St Patrick’s parish priest Fr Michael Sheehan.

Afterwards, both delegations agreed the meeting had proved beneficial in developing “mutual respect and understanding” and further engagements are expected to take place.