Churchmen lead the way
A row has developed between Protestant church leaders and the anti-Catholic loyal orders following Saturday’s Royal Black Institution march in Belfast.
Two senior Protestant clergymen branded the actions of loyalist bands outside a Catholic Church during the march by the Orange Order’s senior organisation as “blatantly sectarian”.
Their statements mark a significant break between the Protestant churches and the loyal orders over sectarian parades in the north of Ireland.
Fighting broke out and a full-scale riot was narrowly averted when loyalist marchers and the PSNI police jointly ignored a ruling of the Parades Commission through north central Belfast last weekend.
The PSNI made no effort to prevent the highly controversial Young Conway Volunteers (YCV) flute band from parading past St. Patrick’s Catholic church at the corner of Carrick Hill and Donegall Street -- contrary to the determination of the Commission, which is supposed to be legally binding.
The YCV and other bands engaged in a number of deliberately offensive and sectarian acts outside the church, to cheers from thousands of loyalists who had gathered nearby. Members of the bands and their supporters roared sectarian abuse at the church and local Catholics.
Bandsmen not only defied the Parades Commission ruling to play only a single drum beat passing the church, but instead played even louder with several playing ‘The Sash’ at the doors of St Patrick’s.
The Shankill Road band had previously signalled its intention to ignore the determination, issuing messages that they would “walk and play”.
It had been banned from walking down part of Clifton Street and Donegall Street after it played the sectarian Famine Song (while marching in circles outside St Patrick’s Church) during the Twelfth of July events.
Nationalist residents from Carrick Hill had a banner calling on the loyalists to ‘Respect St Patrick’s’ ripped out of their hands, before the loyalist mob surged forward and hand-to-hand fighting broke out.
Presbyterian moderator, the Rev Roy Patton and Church ofIreland primate ArchbishopAlan Harper described the behaviour of some of those involved in the parade as “unacceptable”.
“I think we would be very clear as a Church that such behaviour is totally unacceptable and is not in keeping with the values that the loyal orders espouse,” Mr Patton said.
“As a Church we deem such behaviour to be unacceptable.
“How can you expect your own cultural and religious beliefs to be respected if you don’t respect those of others?”
Archbishop Harper saidthere was “no defence” for the actions.
“We recognise that people have particular issues, perhaps with the Parades Commission, but this is not the way to deal with them andsuch behaviour is inconsistent with any profession of Christian faith,” he said.
Whether or not the action were in defiance of the Parades Commission, the outcome was “blatantly sectarian”, he said.
“We’ve spent a long time examining sectarianism within our own Church and we are very clear that sort of thing is not acceptable and is no way to build a harmonious society.
“That is wholly unacceptable to me and to the Church of Ireland.”
Ultra hardliner unionist Jim Allister of the TUV launched a stinging attack on the two churchmen. They should not “attack the Loyal Orders for doing something which they have done for generations without any problems arising,” he said.
But the SDLP’s Alban Maginness welcomed the leadership shown by the Protestant church leaders.
He said: “Hopefully people will listen carefully to the advice of these pastors, and those unionist politicians who have refused to condemn the blatant acts of sectarianism outside St Patrick’s will now reassess their position and show some leadership.”
PSNI ‘MUST EXPLAIN’
As reaction continued to Saturday’s events, the Catholic bishop Noel Treanor this week called on the PSNI to explain why “no visible effort” was made to prevent loyalist bands from defying Parades Commission rulings during Saturday’s Royal Black Institution parade.
Dr Treanor, the Bishop of Down and Connor, said he was “appalled by the provocative sectarianism and insulting behaviour of some participants in the parade directly in front of St Patrick’s Church.”
He added: “That no visible effort appears to have been made to enforce the lawful restrictions imposed on Saturday’s march will have caused great surprise and concern to many and deserves to be explained by the PSNI.”
He also criticised an open letter signed by several high-profile unionists, including First Minister Peter Robinson, which warned of trouble ahead of the parade and called for the scrapping of the Parades Commission.
Meanwhile, Carrick Hill residents were praised for standing up to the sectarian actions of the loyalist bandsmen by their parish priest, FrMichael Sheehan of St. Patrick’s.
He spoke of his shock at the bandsmen’s behaviour but said he was “proud, elated and encouraged” by those “who stood tall in the midst of such dreadful sectarian hatred and venom”.