1. ITV Report

Unionist parade passes off peacefully

Families dressed up for the occasion. Photo: ITV News

Thousands of unionists have taken part in a parade to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, a pledge made by almost half a million people from Northern Ireland on September 28, 1912, 'Ulster day'. The parade went off without incident, although residents accused the marchers of breaking rules.

Police were on high alert as the march passed by a number of potential flashpoint areas in north and east Belfast.

Up to 50 police Land Rovers were stationed along one of the flashpoint at St Patrick's Church.

More than 2,000 Orangemen from north Belfast lodges were surrounded by a heavy police presence as they marched towards City Hall to take part in the massive loyal order parade.

A huge union flag was hoisted above Belfast's City Hall and hundreds of bands marched through the city centre and towards Stormont in east Belfast.

The parades commission, the body responsible for giving permission to marches across Northern Ireland, ruled that the march could go ahead on the condition that bands played only sacred music when they passed Catholic churches.

Unionists had agreed with the Parades Commission to play only hymns along Donegall Street - from the Carrick Hill junction to Royal Avenue - as they passed St Patrick's Church near the city centre.

Locals had requested that no music be played outside the church.

The place of worship has been the scene of disorder at points during the summer after a band was accused of playing sectarian music outside it on July 12.

The parade passed St Patrick's Catholic Church peacefully, and played only hymns, however bands marching past St Matthew's Catholic Church in east Belfast defied the ban on playing sectarian songs by playing the famous Unionist anthem 'the Sash' before reaching the end of the stretch.

Carrick Hill Residents Association chairman Frank Dempsey said they had flouted the rules.

Unionists line up outside the Ulster Hall Credit: ITV News

That determination has been smashed. Some of the bands, yes, they did stick by it, there's no problem there. But a number of them bands broke that.

You saw the way they danced there with the drum and that's supposed to be a hymn.

– Carrick Hill Residents Association chairman Frank Dempsey

But, Father Michael Sheehan, administrator of St Patrick's, said while some of the bands beat their drums exuberantly, he believed they showed respect during the 20-minute march outside the church.

He insisted the talks with the Parades Commission had been fruitful, saying continued dialogue was needed to avoid future trouble.

They marched with dignity down the road. I think a degree of respect was shown that hasn't been shown before.

– Father Michael Sheehan
Marchers in the Ulster Covenant parade down Belfast's city centre Credit: ITV News

Lodges including the Pride of Ardoyne and Pride of the Shore played Abide With Me and Onward Christian Soldiers, as spectators looked on.

The massive parade finished at Stormont with a cultural festival held to commemorate the 1912 proclamation against plans for Home Rule in Ireland.

All contentious sections of the participants' journeys to and from the main meeting point at Stormont were monitored by police.

Politicians from across the political divide had appealed for calm at the event which was one of the biggest loyal order parades seen in Belfast.

Residents of East Belfast wait for the parade to pass, in the shadow of the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes Credit: ITV News