| 18.4°C Dublin

Ulster Covenant parade forced to stick to restrictions for weekend march

A contentious loyal order parade must adhere to a number of restrictions when it passes a potential flashpoint in Belfast this weekend, an adjudication panel has ruled.

The Parades Commission said the those involved in the part of the Ulster Covenant parade that passes St Patrick's Catholic church in the north of the city must only play sacred music.

The Orange Order had offered to play hymns as members passed the church but a residents' group from the surrounding area requested that no music be played.

The commission said no supporters would be allowed to accompany the parade on that section of the route.

St Patrick's, on Donegall Street, was the scene of dispute over the summer after a loyalist band was accused of playing provocative music outside the church on July 12.

The event on Saturday is being staged by the Orange Order to commemorate the centenary of the unionist proclamation against plans for Home Rule in Ireland.

It is set to be one of the largest parades ever held in Belfast, with potentially 30,000 marchers taking part.

Only a section of the parade will pass St Patrick's as it makes its way to join the main body.

The Orange Order estimates that around 2,000 people are scheduled to participate in that part of the event.

The commission also placed the sacred music restriction on those bands that will pass St Matthew's Catholic Church on the Newtownards Road in the east of the city.

The centre piece of the Covenant commemorations will see a cultural festival staged in the grounds of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.

The commission also ruled that a protest planned in the Donegall Street area by the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Committee should be limited to no more than 150 participants.

Last month trouble flared when bands taking part in another loyal order event defied commission rulings regarding St Patrick's.

Those restrictions came after a band was accused of playing a provocative song in front of the church on July 12.

After talks with clergy and parishioners, the Orange Order offered to play only hymns when walking past the church.

But the Order declined to enter into direct talks with the Carrick Hill residents' group, claiming that the issue concerned only St Patrick's.

Ahead of today's ruling, the leaders of Northern Ireland's two main unionist parties appealed for all those taking part in Saturday's parade to behave with dignity.

Democratic Unionist leader and Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt from the Ulster Unionists urged participants who are not directly involved with the St Patrick's church leg of the march to stay away from the flashpoint and urged nationalist protesters to act lawfully.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had criticised the Orange Order for not holding direct talks with the residents' group.