BELFAST (Reuters) - Northern Ireland’s Orange Order on Tuesday cancelled all parades until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak, calling off events that hold huge cultural significance for many pro-British people in the province.
Northern Irish loyalists, who in the largest gathering each July 12 celebrate the 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne by Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James of England and Scotland, are just gearing up for their parading season.
Tens of thousands of members take part in thousands of parades a year, both large and small.
They have often been the spark for sectarian tensions and street violence, even after a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of bloodshed, though less so in recent years.
The Protestant organisation described the action as “unprecedented but necessary” as cases in the British-run province rose to 62 on Tuesday from 52 the day before.
“I appreciate that our culture and traditions are very much a way of life for the Orange family,” Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson said in a message to members.
“However in the light of the current situation we must all prioritise the safety of not only our members, but of the entire community.”
Stevenson said the decision was in response to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’S call on Monday to shut down social life across the United Kingdom to battle against the virus.
The order’s immediate ban covers parades, meetings, church services and other events.
(This story removes media identifier from headline)
Reporting by Ian Graham, editing by Padraic Halpin and Angus MacSwan