Pressure mounts on parades body in Prince Charles row

Prince Charles leaving St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street in Belfast with Fr Michael Sheehan on May 21
Prince Charles leaving St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street in Belfast with Fr Michael Sheehan on May 21

Unionist anger is mounting after the Parades Commission invoked Prince Charles to justify tightening restrictions on a north Belfast parade.

Last year the Orange Order’s Tour of the North parade was only allowed to play a single drumbeat as it passed St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street in north Belfast.

But this year the commission says it is expanding the musical exclusion zone by 43 metres to ensure that no music can be heard within “earshot” of the church during this Friday evening’s parade. The decision was slammed by the DUP and Orange Order.

However, the determination was welcomed by the local priest and SDLP.

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”.

North Belfast DUP MLA Nelson McCausland countered that “the Parades Commission trying to invoke the [May 21] visit of Prince Charles to the chapel is absolutely ludicrous”.

On Thursday DUP MP for the area Nigel Dodds called 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 County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast said yesterday it was “appalled at the latest ludicrous and unjustifiable determination”.

It added: “It is absolutely despicable the commission should implicitly reference the Royal family as a justification for their actions. Shame on them for treating our future King with such contempt.

“The commission peddles the line that this annual event ‘provokes annual tensions’, it is all the parade’s fault; no mention of intolerance, no mention of the republican attacks over many years on the parade, it is the Orange that is the problem.”

It added that the “invented” new criteria of banning music within earshot of an empty chapel is “as mischievous as it is absurd”.

But the priest at the chapel, Fr Michael Sheehan, supported the commission.

Some bandsmen were convicted this year for playing sectarian music outside the church in 2012.

“We would urge everybody to follow the determination of the Parades Commission and to keep within the law,” he told the News Letter.

But he praised the Orange Order for the manner in which it paraded past the church last year on July 12.

“The whole thing was really, really respectful,” he said. “Huge efforts were made by the Orange Order to make sure it passed off smoothly.”

But over the past year, sectarian music has been played near the church and even hymns had been played very loudly or during services, he said.

So while he has no objection in principle to hymns being played outside the chapel, he said the provocative manner in which they have sometimes been played left him believing that the latest restriction was the best solution.

This should not be seen as an attack on the Orange Order, he said, as it is being applied equally to all parades which pass by the church.

SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness said: “In light of numerous breaches of previous Parades Commission determinations this decision was the only sensible course of action available to the commission.”