There have been calls for the Parades Commission to be scrapped after legally-binding restrictions on the giant Ulster Covenant parade were again ignored by Orangemen and loyalist bands on Saturday.
The most provocative behaviour was seen in east Belfast, where a loyalist mob took advantage of the relative absence of media cameras to incite bandsmen to engage in hate-filled actions.
The chanting and shouting of loyalists fused with the hammering of drums to reach a terrifying crescendo outside St Matthew’s Catholic Church as its bells struck at 6pm.
From the outset a number of bands disregarded the restrictions and played ‘The Sash’, The Famine Song - the source of controversy when played outside St Patrick’s Church on the other side of the city centre on the Twelfth of July - and other sectarian tunes, to the delight of loyalists waving flags and holding banners. At the same time, nationalists were cordoned off from their own church and community.
Only one of over twenty loyalist bands passing the church on their return obeyed large electronic road signs warning them to play ‘sacred music’ only.
At various stages during the day loyalist spectators also broke into spontaneous renditions of ‘The Sash’ as the parade passed by. By 5pm the main road was strewn with the cast-off litter of beer boxes and cans and bottles as the mob became increasingly intoxicated.
On several occasions spectators, some of whom were drinking openly, verbally abused a band and Orange Order members because they did not play ‘The Sash’ as they passed St Matthew’s.
Supporters also jeered when a bands walked past the church to a single drum beat.
As tension started to rise one woman stepped into the road and held up a placard reading: ‘We don’t want hymns’ before shouting “No Surrender”.
One bandsman could be clearly seen urinating against the gate pillars into the church -- which had cancelled Saturday’s scheduled morning Mass -- as women and children walked past.
One of the returning bands stopped to playing loyalist tunes outside the grounds of the church.
The last bandsmen passed after the supposed deadline of 6pm -- but not before the playing and singing of sectarian tunes had reached fever pitch.
STILL NO RESPECT
In north Belfast, the presence of the international media and a banner held by nationalist residents again calling for ‘Respect’ failed to deter a number of loyalist bands from starting up sectarian tunes as they passed the doors of the church.
The restriction to play hymns outside the church was openly mocked by the loyalists.
Several bands deliberately paused to beat drums as loudly as possible at the doors of St Patrick’s, with one loyalist jumping around in a hysterical fashion.
“I have never heard ‘Abide With Me’ played with such vigour,” said local priest Fr Michael Sheehan.
There was no sign of the Young Conway Volunteers, the Shankill band who sparked months of trouble around St Patrick’s by playing the sectarian Famine Song and walking in circles outside its doors on the Twelfth of July.
But Frank Dempsey of the Carrick Hill Residents Association said the Parades Commission determination had been “smashed” [destroyed].
Pensioner Elish McEarlean, who was stopped by the PSNI at North Queen Street and prevented from accessing her regular church service at St Patrick’s, described the cordon stopping her as “a disgrace”.
She was eventually allowed through to Mass.
Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly said bands had behaved “provocatively”.
“If the bands had played a single drum beat or were silent when they passed the church as the residents asked, there would be no issue. That said it has been calm there was no trouble but the core issue of mutual respect remains unresolved,” he said.