Gesture by Apprentice Boys leads to call for respect from nationalists

Members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry and bands on the way to their Easter Monday parade.  Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry and bands on the way to their Easter Monday parade. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Nationalists have been urged to respect Protestant culture after a loyalist flute band voluntarily ceased playing as it passed a Catholic church.

North Belfast MLA William Humphrey was commenting following the decision – taken by the Clifton branch of the Apprentice Boys – to pass St Patrick’s in Donegall Street to a single drumbeat.

Protests by nationalist residents groups have led to disorder in recent years, and the Parades Commission had determined that Easter Monday’s feeder parade should play “sacred music” only through the Carrick Hill area.

However, in a surprise move, the band accompanying members of the loyal order went a step further and played a single drumbeat as the Apprentice Boys made their way into the city centre – and again on the return leg in the afternoon.

The DUP representative described the peaceful outcome as “a good start to the parading season” and added: “But people have to show respect and tolerance for other people’s culture and I do hope we will see that coming from the nationalist community this year.”

Mr Humphrey said:“I do think the Apprentice Boys have to be commended. They paraded with dignity and decorum. They were disciplined, as were the band, and they brought credit to their institution.

“I was disappointed to see protests today.

“There were a number of protests – residents and political activists and politicians – and that was unfortunate, because cultural expression is important to people in Northern Ireland.”

The DUP MLA added: “I want to see people who talk about a shared future and a shared space actually practising that.”

A number of protesters from the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents’ Group had gathered amid a heavy police presence.

The group’s chairman Frank Dempsey said there would be no protests if they had assurances of a similar ‘no music’ policy in future.

“If they want to send a message to the nationalist community and to the parishioners of St Patrick’s Church, why don’t they just issue a public statement and clearly state we will do this all the time. If they do that, we’re gone,” he said.

“We don’t want to be standing here, but don’t be coming down here with gestures, it’s something positive we’re looking for, make a statement to say, this is us in future,” Mr Dempsey told the BBC.

Apprentice Boys member Chris McGimpsey said the organisation would consider a similar approach in the future.

He added: “We have been behaving like that at all of our parades in the Apprentice Boys and there is nobody in our club who has caused any offence whatsoever.

“Not so long ago the parish priest wrote to us and congratulated us on our deportment.”