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Grand master faces expulsion after conviction for ban breach

Published 17/04/2014

Connla Young




* PARADE: A feeder loyal order parade passes St Patrick's Church in 2012

THE most senior member of the Royal Black Institution in Belfast could face expulsion after being convicted of knowingly breaching a ban on loyalist bands playing music outside St Patrick's Church.

William Mawhinney, who is the order's Belfast county grand master, was one of five senior members of the institution found guilty when they appeared in court earlier this week.

It is understood to be the first time Royal Black members have been convicted in relation to the parades dispute at St Patrick's.

The charges related to a parade past the Donegall Street church in August 2012.

Violence flared after a number of loyalist bands ignored a ban on playing music outside the place of worship.

Tensions had been raised after the Shankill Road-based Young Conway Volunteers Flute Band was filmed walking in circles outside the church while playing the sectarian Famine Song on July 12.

That band also defied a ruling not to take part in the controversial march.

Dr Noel Treanor, the Catholic bishop of Down and Connor, later asked the PSNI to explain why "no visible effort appears to have been made to enforce the lawful restrictions" placed on the parade.

As well as being the leader of the Royal Black Institution in Belfast, Mr Mawhinney is also the Orange Order's Belfast county secretary and has played a central part in demonstrations connected to the loyalist protest camp in the Twaddell area of north Belfast.

Last year he was branded "extremely irresponsible" for calling on loyalists to escalate protests in north Belfast by engaging in civil disobedience in support of Orangemen banned from passing nationalist homes in Ardoyne.

The 67-year-old has also been selected to stand as a candidate for the Progressive Unionist Party in Belfast in next month's local elections.

A spokesman for the institution last night said the case of Mr Mawhinney and those found guilty with him will be discussed by the institution's ruling body.

"The matter will be discussed at the grand council of the institution which will meet in June," he said.

"For people who have been convicted in court, the penalties can include suspension or expulsion from the institution."

Those found guilty with Mr Mawhinney were Thomas Foster (60) of Woodvale Avenue, Alan McIntosh (60) of Kilcoole Park, Raymond Spiers (56) from Castlereagh Road - all in Belfast - and Brian Kerr (42) of Fairview Gardens in Newtownabbey.

The case against another man, Thomas hefferon (55) of Derrycoole Way, Newtownabbey, was dismissed. each of the men were fined £150 with an additional £15 offender levy.