Leaders of the Orange Order, political unionism and many marching bands have wished their supporters an enjoyable ‘Twelfth’ today – and urged them to celebrate it from the safety of their own homes.
Some 250 bands will perform localised neighbourhood performances today with authorities urging supporters to cheer them on from their front doors or gardens – but not to follow them.
With coronavirus regulations limiting outdoor gatherings to 30, the order took the historic step of cancelling all of its parades.
However, it has also launched a Radio Boyne app, to maintain a sense of community celebration.
The message to enjoy the Twelfth at home has been backed by First Minister Arlene Foster and Health Minister Robin Swann.
Many have expressed frustration at the cancellation of the events following the gathering of hundreds of people, including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy, at the funeral for veteran republican Bobby Storey.
The PSNI is investigating the incident for potential breaches of coronavirus regulations.
“I think it is important to remember why we have the socially distanced guidelines in place, they’re there to protect the community, they are there to protect our families and elderly relatives,” Mrs Foster told the BBC.
“I know that people were frustrated when they saw the scenes in west Belfast and they say, ‘hold on, if that can happen there, why can’t I do it?’, but you have to remember you can’t just fall below the standard required of the community just because others do it.”
“I am appealing to people to celebrate the Twelfth absolutely, but to do it at home and in a way that protects our community.”
She added: “Everybody has a responsibility to show leadership and I very much hope that not just DUP members but everyone who is celebrating the Twelfth tomorrow does so in a way that respects the social responsibility and indeed respects the coronavirus regulations and the guidance.”
While crowds at most bonfires that did go ahead were reportedly very small, several bonfires were reported to have had significant crowds.
Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson, said the overwhelming compliance of most people with coronavirus regulations during the Eleventh Night bonfires set a good precedent.
“People have very much bought into the idea of the Stay at Home 2020 Twelfth,” he said. “And I would again encourage people to stay in their gardens or stand at their front door – the music is coming to you. And if you are not near a band then tune into Radio Boyne.”
Some 250 bands are parading.
He added: “Some bands will be carrying signs urging people not to follow them and some bands have already leafleted their areas asking people not to follow them.”
Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson also issued warm wishes to those celebrating today.
“I want everyone to have a really enjoyable Twelfth of July but please remember to social distance and obey the regulations,” he said. “And we are looking forward to celebrating it in a Covid-free world next year.”
UUP leader Steve Aiken OBE MLA said this would be a Twelfth celebration like no other.
“I commend the Orange Order and all those across the community who are taking the opportunity to mark the commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne in a dignified manner, observing the very necessary Covid rules and guidelines,” he said. “May I also thank the many organisers of bonfires and band parades who have sought, again, to follow the pandemic restrictions.”
TUV leader Jim Allister warned unionists not to breach pandemic regulations and incur criticism from republicans.
“While there has been precious little recognition of the sacrifices loyalists across Northern Ireland have made for the public good, any failure to comply with the regulations will be seized on by our opponents and used to excuse the disgraceful scenes at the funeral of IRA terrorist Bobby Storey,” he said.
The Parades Commission reported that one parade in north Belfast, on Saturday, had breached restrictions, Kilcooley Community Band.
Police said they were investigating an unnotified parade into Kilcoole Park and Kilcoole Gardens on July 11.
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