Parades body sparks Prince Charles row

The Orange Order said that police officers should not be required to declare membership of any legal organisation
The Orange Order said that police officers should not be required to declare membership of any legal organisation

The Parades Commission has been slammed for using the recent visit of Prince Charles to a north Belfast chapel to justify tighter restrictions on a parade in the area.

Critics on Thursday night accused the commission of using the Royal visit as an excuse to invent a new rule to control parades by insisting that no music is played within “earshot” of St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street by the Tour of the North parade next Friday.

An exasperated Rev Mervyn Gibson, Orange Order chaplain, said: “This all relates to a business street where there are no houses and no residents.

“If no people came out to protest outside an empty church then there would be no problem.”

The Order never played music past the church when a service was taking place and the local priest said he would welcome the playing of hymns as they passed by, he said.

The commission said its objectives in further restricting music from within “earshot” of the church were to stabilise parading through “the increased fostering of respect for the church, building upon recent high profile events there”.

But DUP MP for the area Nigel Dodds responded by calling on the Secretary of State to press for the resignation of the commission.

“The implicit reference by the Parades Commission to the recent visit of Prince Charles is an utter disgrace,” he said.

“The Royal Family should not have been brought into this issue at all.”

The commission did not offer any comment last night.

In April, loyalist flute band members were convicted of playing sectarian music outside the church in 2012.

Last year the commission ruled that only a single drum beat should be played past the church.

This year it said it was extending the ban by 43 metres by adding a no-music-within-earshot rule.

But Mr Dodds said this was “deliberately” setting the loyal orders and bands up to fail this test.

This year’s determination says tensions have been exacerbated over the past year by a number of incidents of provocative music “within earshot of St Patrick’s Church”.

The commission said its restriction of a single drumbeat “reflects the persistence of certain bands playing provocative music”.

But Rev Gibson said police had told him they would have prosecuted any further sectarian music since 2012 had they heard any – but that no such cases have been taken.