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Parades Commission Approves Apprentice Boys’ March

On April 6, 2001, the Northern Ireland Parades Commission agrees to allow an Apprentice Boys march along Belfast’s flashpoint Ormeau Road on Easter Monday. The Belfast Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys is being allowed to march along the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau Road for the first time in nearly two years. The parade, which is opposed by nationalist residents, kicks off the loyalist marching season.

Fifty members and one band take part in the parade but the Commission forbids any music to be played between the two bridges on the Ormeau Road. In its ruling, the Commission says that since the last parade in August 1999, there has been “clear evidence of considerable efforts” by the Apprentice Boys to reach agreement with the residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC). It says the LOCC has, in turn, engaged in dialogue with them which has been “sustained and meaningful, notwithstanding spasmodic breaks.” The Commission adds, “It is regrettable that it has not produced agreement or acquiescence. With regard to this decision, the Commission stresses that it provides no guarantees for the future. The Commission will continue to look for evidence of ongoing commitment by LOCC and the Apprentice Boys to find their own resolution to the local issues on the Ormeau Road.”

Apprentice Boys’ spokesman Tommy Cheevers says they are disappointed that agreement has not been reached with the residents. “This is the second time in five years that we will have managed to parade along our traditional route on the Ormeau Road,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster. “We would just ask that everybody accepts the rule of law, as we have had to do in the past when it went against us, and make sure it is peaceful.”

However, the ruling is criticised by LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice. He says he is “absolutely shocked” by the decision, adding he had already asked the Parades Commission for it to be reviewed. “We believe this was the wrong decision. We will ask the Parades Commission to overturn this decision. Failing that, we may go to the courts and ask for a judicial review.” The residents’ group meets with the Commission in the evening to discuss the ruling.

In 2000, the chairman of the Parades Commission praised the behaviour of the Apprentice Boys, after they abided by the decision barring their parade from the lower Ormeau Road. However, there have been violent confrontations at previous parades.

The Parades Commission is established in 1997 to determine whether conditions should be placed on contentious parades in Northern Ireland.

(From: “Green light for contentious parade,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, April 6, 2001)