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Twelfth parades in NI cancelled due to pandemic

Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

By Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland’s loyalist Twelfth of July parades this summer have been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War due to coronavirus, the Orange Order said.

Social distancing rules and restrictions on the gathering of people during the pandemic were to blame.

The Twelfth marks the culmination of the loyal order marching season and normally attracts thousands of Orange lodge members, bandsmen and onlookers.

It celebrates the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when the Dutch-born Protestant leader King William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James the second in Co Meath.

Edward Stevenson, Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said: “It is with regret that I must cancel the 2020 Boyne anniversary parades.

“In the face of the growing crisis surrounding coronavirus, it is in the best interests of our members, their families and the wider community that this decision has been made.

“In the current circumstances, the gathering of hundreds of thousands of Orangemen and women, together with their accompanying bands and spectators, would not be responsible.

“I appreciate that our culture and traditions are very much a way of life for the Orange family, however in light of the current situation we must prioritise the safety of not only our members, but of the entire community.”

Parades had been due to take place at 17 venues across Northern Ireland and also in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, in the Republic.

Demonstrations were not held for a time during the First and Second World Wars or during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

Alternative ways to mark the occasion were found like flying flags and creating displays of Orange lilies, the institution said.

Mr Stevenson added: “For some, the coming days will be extremely painful.

“We must bear in mind that for many people there will be no return of normal life. They will have lost loved ones.

“The Orange family has already lost members to this terrible virus whilst others are currently in hospital.”

Earlier it emerged a man has been arrested over online sectarian threats made against Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann.

Police are investigating “offensive” comments posted on social media on Friday.

Ulster Unionist Mr Swann has been leading the battle against coronavirus and five million items of personal protective equipment arrived in Northern Ireland on Monday.

Medics have been calling for extra supplies after an expected joint order with the Republic of Ireland from China fell through due to international competition.

A 26-year-old was detained in the Ballymena, Co Antrim, area on Sunday on suspicion of improper use of telecommunications causing anxiety and later released on police bail pending further inquiries.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said: “It is utterly despicable that threats that were blatantly intimidating and sectarian were made against our exceptionally hard-working and dedicated Health Minister.”

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