Unionist parade passes peacefully

A contentious Unionist parade past a Catholic church in Belfast has gone off without incident, but residents have accused the marchers of breaking rules.

More than 2,000 Orangemen from north Belfast lodges were surrounded by a heavy police presence as they marched towards City Hall to take part in a massive loyal order parade to mark the centenary of the signing of the pro-Union Ulster Covenant.

An estimated 30,000 marchers are taking part in the Orange Order march - from the City Hall to the grounds of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont in east Belfast.

Unionists agreed with the Parades Commission to play only hymns along Donegall Street - from the Carrick Hill junction to Royal Avenue - as they passed St Patrick's Church near the city centre. Local people had requested that no music be played outside the church.

The place of worship has been the scene of disorder at points during the summer after a band was accused of playing sectarian music outside it on July 12. Protesters and residents claimed the bands breached the rules set by the Parades Commission by playing the most famous Unionist anthem - The Sash - before reaching the end of the stretch.

Carrick Hill Residents Association chairman Frank Dempsey said they had flouted the rules.

"That determination has been smashed," said Mr Dempsey. "Some of the bands, yes, they did stick by it, there's no problem there. But a number of them bands broke that."

But Father Michael Sheehan, administrator of St Patrick's, said while some of the bands beat their drums exuberantly, he believed they showed respect during the 20-minute march outside the church. He insisted the talks with the Parades Commission had been fruitful, saying continued dialogue was needed to avoid future trouble.

"They marched with dignity down the road," added Fr Sheehan. "I think a degree of respect was shown that hasn't been shown before."

A PSNI spokesman said any claims of breaches of the agreement with the commission would be investigated. He added: "Police have an extensive evidence-gathering operation in place and any breaches of the Parades Commission determination will be investigated and reported accordingly."