Belfast city centre managers warn of parade 'adverse impact' ahead of loyal order march
BELFAST city centre managers made representations to the Parades Commission ahead of a massive loyal order march this weekend warning that parades through the commercial district have an "adverse impact" on trade.
UP to 25,000 loyal order members are expected to take part in a postponed parade to mark the 100th anniversary of the partition of Ireland.
The parade this Saturday is expected to attract up to 60,000 spectators as it makes its way from Stormont at 1pm to Belfast City Hall.
Participants in the parade, which has been marked sensitive, will also pass two traditional flashpoints in north and east Belfast.
Around 130 bands are expected to take part in the procession, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The partition of Ireland in 1921 led to the creation of a separate northern parliament, which initially sat in Belfast before relocating to Stormont.
The parade comes amid continuing tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol - which the British government has threatened to override - and the DUP's continued boycott of Stormont.
It has emerged that Belfast City Centre Management (BCCM), which is a public private partnership company funded by the Department for Communities, made representations to the Parades Commission.
According to the commission's determination BCCM suggested that "parades, especially large parades, into the city centre have an adverse impact on commercial activity, discourage footfall into the city centre and this significantly affects retail sales on Saturday afternoons and impacts negatively on the night time economy".
"This is particularly pertinent post Covid, as the retail sector continues to struggle in an uncertain economic climate," the determination said.
It also points out that the BCCM "reiterated its previous message for city centre parades to be held outside the busiest trading hours between 12noon and 6pm".
When contacted a spokeswoman for BCCM said in a statement "opening hours will vary across retail and hospitality in the city centre".
A spokesman for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland said:
“We have been actively encouraging all those visiting to support the retailers in the city centre and along the route ahead of the parade," he said.
“It is natural that come the afternoon the crowds will be watching the parade.
"While it is unfortunate that some shops feel the need to close their premises, we do understand they wish to avoid disruption to their staff."
A section of the parade, including several north Belfast lodges and seven bands, will pass St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street and the nearby nationalist Carrick Hill district.
In the past residents have protested against similar parades.
Bands taking part will only be allowed to play a single drumbeat between the junction of Union Street and Donegall Street and the junction of Westlink and Clifton Street with no supporters allowed along that section of the route.
In east Belfast the parade will pass the nationalist Short Strand area and St Matthew's Church.
Both the main parade and returning east Belfast lodges, which will be accompanied by six bands, will pass through the area.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones urged anyone travelling through Belfast on Saturday to "plan ahead and leave extra time for their journeys" and said traffic diversions will be in place.