30 November 2005

Loyalists reject call to cancel parades for Best funeral

Daily Ireland

Ciarán Barnes

The Apprentice Boys have rejected calls to postpone a series of weekend parades as a mark of respect for George Best.
The Irish soccer legend will be buried on Saturday, at the same time as 16 Apprentice Boys’ marches are scheduled to take place throughout the North.
Nationalist residents’ groups which had planned to protest along some of the routes used by the Apprentice Boys have cancelled their demonstrations as a mark of respect.
However, Apprentice Boys’ leaders have refused to bend on the issue and insisted their parades will go ahead.
Even a last minute plea from a former Ulster Unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast last night has failed to change their minds.
Leading Orangeman Jim Rodgers called on the Apprentice Boys and Parades Commission to work together to set a new date for their Lundy Day march.
His call came after the Ardoyne Parades Dialogue Group in north Belfast confirmed they were cancelling a protest they had planned for Saturday.
Despite this the Apprentice Boys remain adamant that their parades will go ahead as planned.
Leading member William Hay said moving the date would cause difficulty and confusion.
“The main Londonderry parade was supposed to take place on December 18, but we moved it back to December 5 at the request of traders,” he said.
“To move it again would cause all sorts of problems. We are in a difficult situation becuase we understand and sympathise with people who want to go to George Best’s funeral, but moving the parade date just isn’t possible.”
The majority of the 16 Apprentice Boys’ parades planned for Saturday will take place in Belfast.
After each march, members will board buses and travel to Derry for the main Lundy Day demonstration.
Mr Rodgers, a long time friend of George Best, believes the conditions exist to reschedule the parades for another date.
He said: “Other events have been cancelled and postponed. If the Apprentice Boys could get a new date within the next week or so I can’t see why the parades can’t be moved.”
Nationalist resident groups said their decision to cancel parade protests was an indication to of their willingness to resolve the marching issue through dialogue.
“We hope that the loyal orders acknowledge and recognise this,” said spokesman Joe Marley.
A crowd of up to 500,000 is expected to gather at Stormont buildings for Geroge Best’s funeral.
Leading unionist politicans including Democratic Unionist Party MPs Peter Robinson and Gregory Campbell have said they will attend.
With the large numbers expected health and safety chiefs have ordered crowd restrictions. Only 30,000 mourners are to be allowed into the Stormont estate.
“This is a serious issue. We can’t cope with massive numbers,” said a spokesman.

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