Northern Ireland

Orange Order considering shorter Twelfth parade route in Belfast

The Orange Order is considering changes to its annual Twelfth parade route in Belfast.
The Orange Order is considering changes to its annual Twelfth parade route in Belfast.

Belfast's main Twelfth of July parade route could be shortened by six miles under proposals being considered by the Orange Order.

The field section could also be axed from the annual Twelfth parade as part of a radical overhaul, an internal Orange Order document has revealed.

It is one of a number of suggestions made in a review commissioned by the Belfast County Grand Lodge after they were left disappointed by their 2022 parade, the BBC reported this week.

The Lodge said they undertook the review "in the aftermath of the abysmal and unacceptable Twelfth of July in 2022", which they said was “probably the worst for decades”.

It is thought the suggestions were prompted by anti-social behaviour and disruptions caused by crowds at Shaftsbury Square on the parade's return leg in 2022.

Read more:What is the Orange Order? An explainer

Belfast’s current route is one of the day’s longest, covering about ten miles. It leaves Carlisle Circus in north Belfast at 10am and goes through the city centre before congregating at the field in Barnett’s Demense around lunch time.

During late afternoon, it then retraces its steps through the city centre and back to north Belfast.

Read more: What is the Twelfth of July?

The current route is described as "too long".

The new proposed route would be introduced from 2024, where marchers would turn back on themselves at Elmwood Avenue, with the parade finishing by 2pm.

"Let's make 2024 a parade fit for a King," the report concludes.

Orangeman and former Belfast councillor Chris McGimpsey said attempts by the Orange Order to clean up the Belfast parade's image - such as Orangefest and the 'Battle not the Bottle' campaign - have not worked.

"There's always problems with anti-social behaviour in Shaftsbury Square," he told BBC News NI.

"It's almost a tradition in with certain elements in our community to drink too much and cause all sorts of trouble."

Mr McGimpsey said he believes excessive drinking is largely to blame for what he described as "general mayhem" in the area.

"You bring tens of thousands of people into the city centre when one of the only things open are bars - it's not a good recipe," he said.

Prof Jon Tonge, from the University of Liverpool, however said while shortening the route made some sense, it would not tackle excessive drinking.

"A lot of the drinkers have nothing to do with the Orange Order - they're out to celebrate the Twelfth," he said told the BBC.

"But they're out celebrating on the Eleventh Night too - they've already got a lot of alcohol in their system and they're just topping up during the 12th itself.

"I'm not sure the Orange Order can do anything about that."

Orange Order Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Orange Order Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Grand secretary of the Orange Order, Reverend Mervyn Gibson, told the BBC: "We are always reviewing our parades for a host of reasons.

"Discussions have taken place, but no decision has been taken about changes, if any. It will be a matter for Belfast County Grand Lodge after listening to a wide range of views."