Belfast has today 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 today, 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 march on its route through the city centre.

There was a carnival atmosphere in the city centre as the rain stayed away until the end of the parade.

Officers from the PSNI and gardaí took part in the parade, walking together with representatives from GB forces including South Wales, West Mercia, Derbyshire and the British Transport Police.

Ulster Rugby also took part this year, with out-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 with 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."

A ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in Northern Ireland at the start of 2020, just before the pandemic hit, so today's 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."

The Northern Ireland Public Health Agency had advised those attending the parade and other events during the weekend not to go if they had any symptoms of monkeypox such as rashes and blisters.

A small group of religious protesters demonstrated against the pride event outside Belfast City Hall as the parade passed by.

Additional reporting PA