Orange parade ruling irrelevant, says cleric

AN Orange parade - in which participants defied a Parades Commission ruling last year - will not face stringent musical restrictions when it takes place later this month.
AN Orange parade - in which participants defied a Parades Commission ruling last year - will not face stringent musical restrictions when it takes place later this month.

AN Orange parade – in which participants defied a Parades Commission ruling last year – will not face stringent musical restrictions when it takes place later this month.

Bands accompanying Orangemen and women taking part in the annual Loyal Orange Widows’ Fund parade in east Belfast were ordered to only play the hymn Abide With Me while passing a Roman Catholic church close to a city interface.

However, bandsmen openly flouted the ruling, opting instead to play alternative music when marching past St Matthew’s Chapel on the Lower Newtownards Road.

In its determination this week ahead of next Sunday’s Ballymacarrett District Lodge event, the parades body has not placed similar restrictions on the march but did remind organisers of the “importance of adhering to the code of conduct at sensitive locations”.

Participants are due to attend a religious service at St Anne’s Cathedral.

Senior Orangeman the Rev Mervyn Gibson – who last year accused the commission of waging a “jihad” or holy war against the Order – declined to welcome the decision.

“It is totally irrelevant to us what they decide because they are totally discredited,” the Ballymacarrett chaplain said of the parades body.

Stressing that organisers had “no regrets” over previous actions, Mr Gibson said: “We do what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to honour all traditions.

“All our parades we plan to be peaceful, as church parades always are, and we don’t know why they are interfered with in the first place by the Parades Commission.”

The Rev Gibson’s comments regarding last year’s parade – issued as part of an Orange Order statement – prompted the commission to write a letter of complaint to the Presbyterian Church. It claimed the language used by the clergyman was “inappropriate”.

Yesterday, the Rev Gibson confirmed the matter remained an “ongoing” issue and may still be subject to legal action.

A spokesperson for the Parades Commission said: “The commission is encouraged that parading in Belfast and indeed across Northern Ireland has gone reasonably well so far this year and trusts that all parades in the coming months will take place with dignity and respect.

“This places an important responsibility upon parade organisers to plan, conduct and marshal their events in a responsible and respectful manner. The commission has reinforced the importance of adhering to the code of conduct at sensitive locations.

“In imposing no further restrictions the commission wishes to recognise the improved parading environment in the area and reinforces the responsibility of the parade organiser to help sustain that trend.”

Meanwhile, Orangemen from the Ballynafeigh District in south Belfast have been prevented from crossing the Ormeau Bridge at its junction with Annadale Embankment when parading to the same church service.