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Belfast parade must pass off peacefully

This weekend marks the first major test of the marching season with a large-scale march through Belfast city centre to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

Up to 15,000 loyalists and 38 bands are expected to participate in today's march which will process along High Street, Donegall Place and Royal Avenue before returning to Woodvale at 2pm.

Apart from the likely disruption on the busiest trading day of the week, the march takes place shortly before the Republic of Ireland's match with Belgium when supporters will be heading for city centre bars and the fanzone at the Titanic Quarter.

We must all hope the day passes off without incident but it will undoubtedly represent something of a security headache for the PSNI.

In this year of anniversaries, there are a range of commemorations marking momentous events in our history and it is important that dignity and respect is shown to those who lost their lives, either during the Easter Rising or at the Somme.

It is also essential that parades are not used by some elements to sharpen divisions.

Unfortunately, in our society, and despite the considerable progress that has been achieved in building understanding, there are some loyalists who, at this time of year, seem determined to send out a wholly negative message.

Once again we have seen a Union flag erected outside a Catholic church in a small Co Antrim village.

It is an absolute disgrace that Our Lady and St John the Evangelist Church in Dervock, which serves a small Catholic population in the mainly unionist village, should be targeted in this way.

Two years ago the gates of the church were painted red, white and blue and a flag was also placed on an electric pole in the grounds.

The gates were later restored to their original colour after senior loyalists in the area intervened while last year a north Antrim DUP councillor called for the removal of a flag outside the church.

It is therefore disappointing and rather depressing that despite these positive interventions, this parish has again been subject to unwarranted attention.

Placing a Union flag in the grounds of a Catholic church can only have one purpose and that is to send out an intimidatory message to nationalists in this rural community.

When a similar flag was put up in 2014, the police at the time said it was a hate crime. Now they are saying that while they are aware of the flag, no complaints have been received.

This church has been placed in a very difficult position.

The best outcome would be for the flag to be removed voluntarily and this place of worship left in peace.

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