News Letter
15 March 2012

ORGANISERS of a loyalist band parade – scheduled to take place in Armagh on Saturday – have said a meeting with local Sinn Fein representatives has broken up without agreement.

The parade organisers called last night’s meeting in a bid to “allay fears” over the contentious St Patrick’s Day march.

The landmark meeting, held in the city council offices, came 24 hours after the Parades Commission, in a review of an earlier determination, ruled that the event organised by the Cormeen Rising Sons of William Flute Band should go ahead.

Despite objections from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP, the commission has granted permission for the parade on Saturday evening on the condition that it begins no earlier than 7.30pm and disperses before 10.30pm.

Up to 40 bands are scheduled to parade through the historic city after it plays host to its annual St Patrick’s celebrations.

Cormeen members have insisted their yearly parade – moved from nearby Killylea to cater for its increasing size – offered an opportunity for members of the unionist community to express their own association with the patron saint.

Organisers previously claimed that nationalists had failed to respond to offers to discuss their concerns about the march.

However, following a request by the band yesterday morning, Sinn Fein responded positively.

The political delegation was led by Newry and Armagh MP Conor Murphy, a vocal critic of the parade. DUP MLA William Irwin accompanied a representative of the Cormeen band.

Speaking after the meeting, band spokesman Quincey Dougan said: “A very open and frank discussion took place. The band listened to the concerns of Sinn Fein, then explained its rationale for the band procession and the depth of its preparations, and attempted to respond to and allay their concerns. We stated very firmly our commitment to ensuring the night passed off without incident.

“Regretfully no agreement could be reached. Sinn Fein’s sole proposal was the exclusion of the event from the city on St Patrick’s Day. Exclusion has been the root cause of many of the communal problems in Northern Ireland over the past decades, and we feel to reignite another cycle of that nature would be irresponsible.

“We have, however, taken the apprehensions of Sinn Fein on board and will make extra efforts to ensure the procession passes peacefully.”

Mr Dougan added: “The way forward to a shared future is acceptance of each other’s cultural practices and traditions.

“We would sincerely urge all those in Armagh on Saturday to exercise mutual respect for each other and not repeat mistakes of the past. Mistakes which have benefited no-one.”

Earlier, Mr Dougan struck a conciliatory note by stressing organisers did not view the commission’s decision as a “victory”.

He said: “The band will fully comply with the determination on Saturday evening, and will be working closely with the PSNI to ensure it is an enjoyable and trouble-free evening for all.

“St Patrick is the patron saint of the entire island of Ireland and all of its people. We fully respect the rights of others to celebrate according to their own traditions, and in turn would ask they respect ours.”