The Orange Order has confirmed that Twelfth of July parades will not be held this year, due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Parades had been due to take place at 17 venues across Northern Ireland and also in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson confirmed the decision had been taken “with regret” in line with current advice on restricted gatherings and social distancing.
“In the current circumstances, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of Orangemen and women, together with their accompanying bands and spectators, would not be responsible,” he said.
“I appreciate that our culture and traditions are very much a way of life for the Orange family.
“However, in light of the current situation, we must prioritise the safety of not only our members, but of the entire community.”
Mr Stevenson added: “The Orange family has already lost members to this terrible virus whilst others are currently in hospital.
“I would encourage you to pray for all those who have been or will be affected by the coronavirus and for those in our health service and other essential jobs who are working so hard to fight it.”
Cancellation of Twelfth of July parades previously happened during the First and Second World Wars and during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.
According to the Orange Order, alternative ways to mark the occasion were found, such as flying flags or displaying orange lilies.
The Grand Master said: “We will look at alternative ways the Twelfth of July can be appropriately marked in 2020, following the guidelines and restrictions applicable at that time.”
Paying tribute to members helping their community during the Covid-19 crisis, Mr Stevenson reminded everyone of the need to follow the guidelines in place.
He added: “We look forward to the day that we can parade in celebration once again – however, in the months ahead, it is more important we work together to fight this terrible disease.
“The energies and resources of our Institution are focused on the fight against coronavirus. I pray that God will protect and lead us through the months ahead.”
First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said the decision was a responsible step.
“The priority for us all must be public health and protecting lives,” she added.
“By taking such steps now, and if everyone adheres to the advice, then we can reduce the pressures on our NHS, save lives, and ultimately ensure we emerge as strongly as possible from this pandemic.
“There will be a great deal to celebrate when we do finally have the opportunity to meet again.”
UUP leader Steve Aiken said: “We are in unprecedented times and I commend the Orange Order for putting the health of our citizens first and taking this decision.
“The magnitude of this decision cannot be underestimated, with parades previously being cancelled due to both World Wars and the Spanish Flu epidemic.
“These are extraordinary times, and they require extraordinary decisions for the benefit of us all.”
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