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JOINT STATEMENT FOLLOWING PARADES COMMISSION MEETING 

Joint statement from First Minister Rt. Hon Peter Robinson MLA, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and Mr Mike Nesbitt MLA, Ulster Unionist Party Leader following a meeting with the Parades Commission:

“This afternoon (Tuesday) we have met with the Parades Commission to highlight a number of relevant facts which we believe they should take into account when making any determination. 
 
It is, in our view, very regrettable that any determination has to be issued on the Ulster Covenant Parade. The Parade organised by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland marks a particularly significant event namely the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant.
 
We welcome the steps that have been taken by the Orange Institution in order to demonstrate respect to the clergy and parishioners of St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street.  The Orange Order fulfilled their commitment to engage with Fr. Michael Sheehan and, as we understand it, placed no restriction on who Fr Sheehan would invite to those discussions.  Following the quiet conversations, the Grand Orange Lodge launched a significant initiative to ensure respect was shown outside St Patrick’s Church by announcing that the 14 bands that would pass the Church would play sacred hymn music only. This, along with the apology from the band, the apology from the Royal Black Chapter and the Orange Order’s support for that apology, has demonstrated the significant steps that have been taken to ensure respect is demonstrated outside the church on Saturday.
 
We were disappointed to learn that on two occasions the Chair of the Carrick Hill Residents’ Group had been invited to join with clergy and parishioners to engage in conversations with representatives from the Orange Order but refused to participate. During those conversations, we were pleased to learn that Fr Sheehan had indicated that no one could be offended by the playing of sacred hymn music whilst passing any place of worship. Indeed, we wholeheartedly concur with this assessment. 
 
We are heartened at the indication in the Grand Orange Lodge statement that the Orange Institution is prepared to continue with conversations in the aftermath of the 29th September parade.  We encourage all of those who were involved in the process to re-engage after Saturday’s parade and we would particularly encourage those who rejected the previous invitation to talks to reconsider in order to find a mutually respectable longer-term way ahead.
 
This weekend’s events have a very special and cherished significance for unionists across the Province and beyond.  Whilst we fully recognise that not everyone in Northern Ireland will embrace the celebrations, we would appeal to the whole community to demonstrate respect for one another and for the differences in culture and identity.
 
Many thousands of people will celebrate and enjoy the centenary events and in doing so acknowledge the contribution of their forefathers.  The Covenant celebrations mark the gateway to a decade of centenary commemorations. The standards of respect, tolerance and acceptance demonstrated this weekend will not only have implications over the next few days and weeks but will have an impact as to how we are all able to commemorate the further centenaries in the years ahead.
 
We would appeal to all those involved in commemorating the Covenant centenary to act in a way that brings dignity and honour to our country.  As only a small section of the main parade is due to pass St Patrick’s Church, we would encourage the many thousands who will want to watch the main parade to do so at vantage points at the City Hall and along the main parade route.  Only those who are involved in the parade passing St Patrick’s Church need be in that particular vicinity.
 
Equally we call upon those who have notified their intention to protest against the Orange Order parade passing St Patrick’s Church to behave in a dignified, lawful and responsible manner.  Just as the Orange Order is responsible for the conduct of the parade, so too are the Carrick Hill protest organisers responsible for the conduct of all those on protest. Given that there are only a few hundred who live in the area, we would not expect to see more protestors on Saturday than there are residents in Carrick Hill.
 
We appeal to all concerned to behave in a sensible way.  We have indicated to the Parades Commission that no sensible person could object to the playing of hymn music on Saturday.  The focus of the celebrations should now turn to ensuring a great day is had by all.  It is our hope that the celebrations lay the foundations for increased mutual respect and acceptance as was the vision of our unionist forefathers."

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