Peaceful start to Northern Ireland’s marching season helps to ease tensions (Belfast Telegraph)

The marching season got off to a peaceful start as the Apprentice Boys Easter demonstration passed off without incident.

The main parade took place in east Belfast, however the chief concerns were around how small splinter parades in Ardoyne and past a Catholic church in Donegall Street would pass off.

Amid a heavy police presence these feeder parades proceeded without incident.

Carrick Hill Residents Group spokesman Frank Dempsey said if all parades passed like yesterday, he would advise residents not to stage protests at Donegall Street.

The Shankill Star band accompanied the Faith Defenders Clifton Branch from Belfast Orange hall along Donegall Street yesterday at 11.20am and returned at around 2.45pm amid a heavy police presence.

A single drumbeat was sounded as the parade passed St Patrick’s Church – the scene of unrest in previous years when a loyalist band played a sectarian song.

While around 20 protesters turned out, Mr Dempsey said if the Apprentice Boys had issued a statement saying they were going to abide by the Parades Commission ruling, they would not have staged the protest.

The return parade yesterday afternoon breached a Parades Commission ruling by taking place at 2.45pm, when it should have happened at 2pm.

However, just a single drumbeat was played while passing St Patrick’s Church as instructed.

Mr Dempsey praised the morning parade as “perfect”, querying why it couldn’t happen like that every time.

He did, however, express disappointment at the lateness of the return leg.

“I am pleased at how it went, but they need to do this all the time,” he said.

“Let’s hope it is not just a gesture. 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. 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 also criticised the heavy policing, saying it curtailed activities by local people.

SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon also praised the peaceful proceedings.

“I am always pleased when it passes off peacefully,” she said.

“There is an opportunity to resolve this and I would urge people to enter into talks.”

On July 12, 2012 locals were outraged when a loyalist band played the sectarian Famine Song while passing St Patrick’s. This caused tensions during subsequent parades.

A morning parade by the Ligoniel Walker Club along the Crumlin Road and past the Ardoyne shops also passed off peacefully.

The main Apprentice Boys Easter parade took place in east Belfast yesterday.

Today the Junior Orange Order will stage its annual Easter parade in Larne. The main parade will leave Circular Road at 12.30pm and proceed through the town centre to Sandy Bay Park.

Members and accompanying bands will commence the return parade at 3.30pm.

The parade is being held in Larne this year to mark the centenary of the UVF’s anti-Home Rule gun-running episode in the town.


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