Nationalists in north Belfast have walked out of a meeting with the Parades Commission after being told to stay clear of their own parish church this Sunday as yet another incendiary loyalist parade marches by.
For the second time in a month, Carrick Hill parishioners have been banned from standing outside St Patrick’s Church to protest the parades. They were instructed to instead hold their protest against the routinely provocative parades at a nearby carpark.
The church has been targeted for sectarian abuse by such parades over the past twelve months, most controversially when a UVF-linked band circled outside the church to play sectarian tunes, before setting upon a local man who had video recorded the incident.
The residents, many of whom attend Mass at the church, say they should be allowed to stand outside their place of worship during the controversial parade.
They have also objected to the ‘kick-the-Pope’ bands being allowed to play music while passing nearby nationalist homes. Sunday’s parade is expected to attract up to 1,000 participants and three bands.
Residents have been told they will have to stand at a car park opposite and on a footpath between Trinity Street and No 18 Clifton Street. Their numbers have been restricted to just 30 at each location.
The outward leg of the parade will begin at 2.15pm and return no later than 6pm.
Residents’ spokesman Frank Dempsey said last night that residents were bewildered by the Parades Commission decision.
“I don’t know what the Parades Commission are trying to achieve here,” he said.
“If they think for one minute the role they are playing is constructive, they need to think again.
“What they have done today is to separate a church from its people and we are not going to allow that to happen.
“The Parades Commission may not be aware that the church is its people.”
“We got up and left them and said we were fed up with their condescending attitude.”
Mr Dempsey said the community was angered at the Parades Commission for allowing the parade to go ahead in the absence of loyal order talks with residents.
Urging talks, the community leader said: “If the Apprentice Boys, Orange Order and Black Institution say there’s no need for the Parades Commission then they should sit down with the residents of Carrick Hill.”
For many republicans, the Parades Commission has became emblematic of the failure of the peace process to improve the lot of northern nationalists. While loyalists have routinely been allowed to ignore their determinations, the body’s sectarian decision-making reached crisis levels earlier this year when it failed to speak out against hundreds of illegal flag-related loyalist parades and protests.
Earlier this week, during during a rare House of Commons debate about the North, British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers declared that decisions by the Parades Commission during the marching season must now be complied with.
There are real dangers for Northern Ireland if we see a reoccurrence of the disorder which has marred Northern Irelands marching season on too many occasions in years past. It damages Northern Irelands image abroad, she told MPs.
She said the British government is willing to listen to reforms of the Parades Commission if they are put forward together by the North’s political parties but until such time as that is settled it is vital that the Parades Commission is supported”.