Belfast Pride given permission to go ahead – Iris invited

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has given permission for Belfast Pride to go ahead on August 2nd without any restrictions.

The Commission met with Pride organisers, people opposed to the event and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

It said in a statement that it acknowledged that all concerned have “reaffirmed their commitment to an agreement reached some years ago surrounding the conduct of the parade and associated protest.”

Parades Commission Chairman Roger Poole said:

“We respect the views of those who are organising the Pride parade and those who wish to express their opposition.

“Just as with any parade in Belfast where there is disagreement it is important that all concerned treat each other with respect and show tolerance towards the views of wider society.

“The Commission is aware from its meetings that both sides have reaffirmed their intention to abide by an agreement reached in 2005.

“We are pleased to have this renewed commitment, particularly in light of the events of 2007 when a particular placard was on display which caused considerable offence.

“It is very clear to us that the Belfast Pride parade is a welcome addition to the city and it is a colourful and positive celebration of all lifestyles which co-exist in Belfast.

“We urge those taking part in the parade, those supporting the parade and those who are opposed to the parade to act in a way which respects the views and sensitivities of all concerned.”

The Parades Commission decides whether individual protest marches or parades can take place in the province.

In August 2007 Belfast city councillor Christopher Staltford led calls for restrictions on future gay parades, claiming he was offended a the placard which read: “Jesus is a fag.”

Belfast Pride is habitually picketed by groups of fundamentalist Christians, but usually passes off peacefully.

Free Presbyterian protesters infiltrated the march in 2006, handing out extracts from the Bible in protest.

Belfast Pride has been held every year since 1991 despite calls from the Free Presbyterians and others to ban it.

DUP MP Iris Robinson has been invited to a debate, Pride Talks Back, alongside gay activists, the police and members of various religious denominations.

All political parties in the province take part in the event apart from the DUP.

A spokesman for the party told the Belfast Telegraph that Mrs Robinson, who is married to the province’s First Minister, will be out of the country and will not be able to take up an invitation to the debate or the Pride march itself.

Andy Thompson, chairman of Pride, told the Telegraph:

“I think Iris Robinson should really be making an effort to attend.

“If she is genuine about being misrepresented in her remarks then this is a perfect opportunity for her to clarify that.

“This is the perfect opportunity for her to hear about the hurt and harm she is causing people.”

Mrs Robinson, the MP for Strangford, was at the centre of renewed controversy earlier this week comments she made likened child abuse to homosexuality during a Commons committee proceeding came to light.

Sammy Wilson, an MP and Northern Ireland’s environment minister, said on the BBC this morning that his colleague is being harassed by the media and is entitled to express her views.

Mrs Robinson sparked outrage earlier this year when she offered to put gay men in touch with a psychiatrist who claims he can make them straight.

More than 12,500 people have already signed a petition on the Downing St website asking the Prime Minister to reprimand Mrs Robinson.