24 September 2012

Centenary of the Ulster Covenant Parade - Donegall Street - GRAND ORANGE LODGE STATEMENT

St Patricks Chapel, Donegall Street, Belfast

THERE has been much dishonest and misleading information concerning the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland parade, which will be held in Belfast on Saturday 29 September to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant and the issue of St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Chapel, Donegall Street.  The Grand Lodge wishes to clear up any ambiguity and address some of the comments that are taken as fact and going unchallenged.

The only leg of the parade that will be passing St Patrick’s Chapel will be the Grand Lodge officers, their guests and the five districts attached to Belfast Orange Hall, Clifton Street, accompanied by 14 bands. The entire parade will not be passing St Patrick's.

The focal point of the recent concern has always been St Patrick’s Chapel. It was there that the incident occurred on the 12th July, a Parades Commission determination to ban music on the ‘Last Saturday’ was imposed and it was opposite the chapel that the protestors stood. The banner carried by the protestors stated ‘Respect St Patrick’s Church'; ‘respect’ became the mantra of all and crystallised the issue.

It was therefore in response to a call by Fr Michael Sheehan for quiet conversations away from the public glare that the Grand Lodge entered into direct dialogue with the clergy and parishioners of St Patrick’s concerning the issue of respect. All involved in the conversations were clear what the issue was - respect for St Patrick's Chapel.

These conversations addressed the heart of the matter and Grand Lodge made it clear that they would not be entering into negotiations with the Residents Group as the issue was focused on St Patrick’s and the parishioners. While Fr Sheehan thought it may be useful to talk to the Residents Group, the conversations proceeded on this understanding.

The Grand Lodge made no pre conditions regarding who would be present during these conversations nor the numbers involved, that was down to which parishioners were invited by the clergy. We appreciated Fr Sheehan’s openness and frankness during our conversations and he advised that the Chair of Carrick Hill Residents Group had been invited twice to attend, but refused.

Fr Sheehan also made it very clear that he could not speak for the Residents Group, no more than they could speak for the Church. This assured us that by speaking to him and the parishioners we were engaging with those who had the authority to speak on behalf of St Patrick's Chapel. Grand Lodge took part in the conversations as did representatives from Belfast County Grand Orange Lodge, local district Orange Lodges, bands and the local community.

All present agreed that the conversations were worthwhile and meaningful. The issue of what respect looked like was widely discussed. There was a broad consensus that silence or a single drum beat added a menacing tension to parades. Fr Sheehan helpfully stated that he would openly welcome the playing of hymns as bands passed the chapel, if that was to be our decision. He added that this would be his position no matter what others called for.

Following wide consultation within the Unionist family the Grand Lodge issued a statement that on this occasion only hymns would be played as the parade passed St Patrick's on 29 September as a mark of respect. We thank all those involved in the quiet conversations and as stated publicly we are happy for those to continue.

We look forward to a response from the Bishop, Clergy and parishioners to the invitation to visit Schomberg House as we seek to build mutual understanding.

We thank all within the Unionist family for their support and encouragement in this matter as we look forward to a great day of celebration on 29 September when we will commemorate the signing of the Ulster Covenant.