Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy has described a loyalist march which was allowed to take place as local residents were celebrating St Patrick’s Day in the centre of Armagh, as having “killed the spirit of St. Patrick”.
A bomb scare had disrupted the annual St Patrick’s Day parade earlier in the day. No claim of responsibility was made in connection with the hoax, which saw a number of homes evacuated and the main parade rerouted.
Fearing serious violence, most local residents quickly abandoned the city centre.
However, minor clashes broke out as the more than 43 loyalist bands and more than 1,000 supporters were then forced through the area. There were three arrests.
Mr Murphy stated, “While I am glad that people did not rise to provocation, as Sinn Féin advised, and that there were no major incidents in Armagh yesterday, it is obvious that the loyalist parade killed the spirit of St Patrick for those trying to celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of Ireland.”
Murphy continued, “The annual council organised parade has been growing year on year and last year in excess of 16,000 people came in to Armagh to enjoy the festivities. In the past this has brought a welcome economic boost to Armagh’s traders but this was ruined yesterday as overall numbers were down significantly, shops had to close early and some traders reported takings down by 75%.
“I would challenge [local UUP assembly member] Danny Kennedy, who has accused the nationalist community of a ‘hysterical reaction’ to speak to these traders who have missed out on the busiest day’s trade of the year.”
Despite the controversy, the loyalist band involved in organising the march, ‘Cormeen Rising Sons of William’ band, said it is already making plans for next year’s event.
The Sinn Fein MP said the bomb scare in the afternoon and the sight of a helicopter hovering overhead led to a tense atmosphere, one that was “not conducive to a family day out”. He added, “Had Cormeen flute band been serious about wishing to participate in the St Patrick’s Day celebration they could have remained in discussions with Armagh council instead of walking out to hold a separate parade.”
A spokesperson for eirigi described the Parades Commission’s determination as one that ‘defies logic’.
Newry eirigi member Stephen Murney said, “The Parades Commission and the PSNI have a lot to answer for. It’s also clear that the Parades Commission haven’t considered the negative impact this parade will have on the community in Armagh.”