15,000 loyalists to march through Belfast city centre
UP to 15,000 loyalists are set to parade through Belfast city centre next week to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
A total of 36 bands are due to march along Belfast’s busiest shopping street - Royal Avenue - on Saturday June 18.
Business leaders last night voiced fears about "a seriously negative effect on trade".
Organisers have described the purpose of the march as ‘Centenary 36th Ulster Division’, the British army regiment made up from Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members during World War I.
More than 3,500 Irish soldiers died at the Somme in 1916, including around 2,000 from the 36th Division in the first hours of the battle on July 1.
The 2016 Centenary Committee, which has organised the march, has also applied to hold a feeder parade from a mixed area of north Belfast with no previous history of marching.
It wants to bring marchers from the junction Lansdowne Road and Fortwilliam Park along the Shore Road before linking up with the main parade at Donegall Street.
The starting point of the feeder parade, which will involve up to five bands and 1,500 people, is close to the Mount Vernon estate.
Bands taking part include Monkstown YCV Flute Band, while the UVF Regimental Flute Band is among those in the main parade.
The application states that 15,000 participants in total are expected, not including supporters.
However, neither parade has been classified as sensitive.
The main march is expected to begin in the Cambrai area of the Shankill Road at 11am before making its way to the city centre.
Its route will take it along some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares including High Street, Donegall Place and Royal Avenue before it returns to the Woodvale Road in west Belfast at 2pm.
It is expected it will pass along Royal Avenue some time after noon.
Earlier in the day another feeder parade involving up to two bands and 1,000 people will makes its way from the Hideout Bar on Donegall Pass to the city centre and along Royal Avenue.
In the past city centre traders have voiced concern about marches at peak shopping times.
Hugh Black, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said last night it respects “everyone’s right to parade”.
“The core-trading period of the working week remains on a Saturday between noon and 6pm.
“To have any parade or demonstration take place in the city centre during the peak business hours of business has a seriously negative effect on trade and footfall which in turn effects staff’s working hours, their jobs and, in turn, our overall economy."