THOUSANDS of Orangemen are set to converge on Stormont later this year to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.
The Orange Order has confirmed that Parliament Buildings will provide the symbolic backdrop for a major parade by members of the loyal institutions in Belfast on September 29.
April’s edition of the Orange Standard – the Order’s monthly publication – reports that Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has granted permission for the large event to be staged in the grounds of the historic estate.
In what is expected to be one of the largest parades held in the Province in recent times, the route of the march is likely to pass through the city centre en route to Stormont.
Organisers are keen that it also incorporates the City Hall, the venue for the most famous Covenant signing – led by Sir Edward Carson – in 1912.
The parade will be open to all of the loyal orders, with both the Independent Orange Institution and Apprentice Boys already having confirmed their participation.
Numbers will also be boosted by the attendance of brethren from England and Scotland.
Members of Grand Lodge ratified the plans at a meeting in Bessbrook last month.
The Orange Standard said the Stormont estate has “outstanding historic resonance”, pointing to the prominent statue of Carson at the front of Parliament Buildings and the grave of Lord Craigavon in the grounds.
The chosen location in the east of the city comes after “protracted” discussions with Belfast City Council over a venue in the city centre.
The council’s playing fields at Strangford, Wedderburn and Grove were also considered as alternatives.
As well as the Belfast parade, the Orange Order is expected to launch an extensive exhibition focusing on the Ulster Covenant later this month.
As part of talks in Dublin last week with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, a delegation of senior Orangemen and members of the Royal Black Institution stressed they would welcome Irish government support to have the exhibition put on display in the Republic later this year.
The Order also recently launched a music and literary competition to mark the commemorations.
When contacted by the News Letter regarding the Belfast march, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance and Personnel said: “The Finance Minister has granted approval to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland for the use of the Stormont estate on Saturday, September 29, 2012 subject to detailed arrangements and relevant paperwork in relation to the event being agreed with the department’s estate management unit and other relevant authorities. Contacts are at present ongoing.”