Belfast has hosted its largest Pride parade as more than 60,000 people packed the city’s streets for the event’s post-pandemic return.
The parade was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 emergency.
In 2019, an estimated 60,000 participants and spectators filled the city centre.
Police believe that was surpassed on Saturday as the colourful procession returned.
Three years ago, 135 groups registered to take part in the parade.
This year organisers had to close the application window early after 200 group registrations were received.
PSNI Superintendent Gerard Pollock said: “I want to take this opportunity to thank all those involved for their help in making today’s Belfast Pride Parade run smoothly.
“This is the first parade since 2019 and our initial assessment is that it was larger than 2019, which would make this year’s event the largest Pride parade to date.”
The theme for the event was “community united in diversity” and a group of asylum seekers and refugees who have made Belfast their home were invited to lead the noisy march on its route through the city centre.
There was a carnival atmosphere as the rain stayed away until the end of the parade.
Officers from the PSNI and Garda took part in the parade, walking together with representatives from Great Britain forces including South Wales, West Mercia, Derbyshire and the British Transport Police.
Ulster Rugby also took part this year, with fly half Ian Madigan among those parading through the city. Players from the Belfast Azlans, a predominantly gay rugby club, also joined the parade.
The GAA was also well represented, with Ulster GAA taking part along several clubs, including East Belfast GAA.
Co-chairman of the Belfast Pride Festival Cara McCann said pent-up excitement was a factor in the large numbers taking part in the parade’s return.
“People are fed up sitting at home the last couple of years and I think that’s why we have increased numbers today,” she said.
“But also I think Pride has increased generally and people just want to take part in it.”
Ms McCann said it was remarkable how much the event had grown across three decades.
“I think the first brief dander was over 30 years ago with less than 100 people in that small walk and at those times it was a really nerve-wracking thing to do, and it was very, very brave for the people who went before us for that first ever Pride.
“It has grown globally but it has grown locally as well to a massive size.”
A ban on same sex marriage was lifted in Northern Ireland at the start of 2020, just before the pandemic hit, so Saturday’s Pride parade was the first in the city since that historic law change.
Fellow festival co-chairman John O’Doherty said the event had offered a belated chance to celebrate.
“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to celebrate the introduction of equal marriage, something we haven’t been able to do over the last three years,” he said.
“So there’s so much to celebrate today.
“But there’s also a lot of campaigning we still need to do to ensure that we have full equality for our community.”
Mr Pollock added: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been involved in the Pride festival for the past number of years.
“Pride is an important series of events for those who identify as being LGBT+ and we see this not just as an opportunity to highlight that hate crime, in whatever form, is wrong and the importance of reporting it but also to engage with and show our support for members of the LGBT+ community.
“Hate crime must not be tolerated and victims should feel confident that when they contact police that their concerns will be taken seriously and responded to appropriately.”
A small group of religious protesters demonstrated against the Pride event outside Belfast City Hall as the parade passed by.
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