Up to 15,000 loyalists are expected to take part in a parade through Belfast later today [Saturday] as thousands of nationalists will be making their way to the city centre to watch the Irish national soccer team take on Belgium in European Championship soccer.
The parade’s route will take it along some of the city’s busiest shopping streets before it returns to the loyalist Woodvale Road at 2pm. Organisers have described the purpose of Saturday’s parade as commemorating the members of the original Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) who died during World War I. There were also applications for controversial feeder parades through north Belfast and east Belfast.
The parade takes place just hours after the Orange Order held its annual ‘Tour of the North’ parade around north Belfast. More than 800 members of the anti-Catholic Orange Order along with 11 bands took part in the parade on Friday evening.
A protest was organised by nationalist residents as it passed through the Carrick Hill community around St Patrick’s Church. Although the event had sparked public order problems in the past, this year’s parade passed off without incident.
With another summer of confrontations over sectarian parades looming, a leading Orangeman has called for a new effort to reach a comprehensive deal on the issue. Back in 2010, unionists and Sinn Féin agreed a series of plans on parading, but the Orange Order rejected the deal.
Darryl Hewitt, who is the Portadown district master, said the plans should now be re-examined. “We have to move on - we can’t keep looking backwards, so we have to move forward,” he said.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for north Belfast, Gerry Kelly, said he hopes progress can be made on the matter. “There is a better atmosphere for dealing with these things,” he said. “I think there is a better atmosphere up there at the assembly as well. Let’s hope we can move forward on that basis, but I don’t have a magic wand.”
The Greater Ardoyne Residents Coalition, which opposes sectarian parades in north Belfast, expressed scepticism over the proposed talks.
“The reason these plans are being re-visited is because within them it stated that any residents’ group would be deemed ‘legitimate’ by the elected representatives in the area, and those not deemed “legitimate” would have the right to protest withdrawn,” they said.
“Sinn Féin see this as a way of neutralising groups in Ardoyne, Rasharkin, Carrick Hill, Newtownbutler and elsewhere that they cannot control... Regardless of any deal between the DUP, Sinn Féin, Loyal Orders and loyalist paramilitaries, we will continue to oppose sectarian parades through our community. We do not fear the State and their apparatus.”