Orange Order parades in Belfast pass off peacefully

Orange Order parades in Belfast pass off peacefully
Orange Order members march on Woodvale Road in Belfast. Picture: PA

Flashpoint Orange Order parades marking the Twelfth of July across Belfast have passed off virtually without incident.

Marches near Catholic churches in the east and city centre were largely uneventful while the most volatile sectarian interface at the nationalist Ardoyne remained calm amid claims a deal to end the long-running dispute had been close.

However, several families near the staunchly loyalist Shankill Road were left facing homelessness after their properties were burned beside an Eleventh Night bonfire marking the start of festivities on Monday. And a normally liberal Ulster Unionist MP apologised after tweeting a photograph of him standing in front of a bonfire with the Irish flag on top.

The huge bonfire in Shankill Road. Picture: PA
The huge bonfire in Shankill Road. Picture: PA

The vast majority of the 600 parades on the Twelfth commemorating the anniversary of King William III's victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 are free of trouble each year.

But the threat of disorder at a small number of sectarian junctions between Catholic and Protestant residents always has the potential to mar the day.

More than 3,000 police officers were on duty but the situation remained peaceful and low key.

During recent Twelfths, police have come under attack at a temporary barrier on the Woodvale Road as they prevented three Orange lodges and their supporters from reaching Ardoyne.

In recent days a deal between the Orange Order and residents fell through but community workers on both sides of the divide have expressed hope the work can be salvaged.

This year, in what was apparently a pre-planned move, only a dozen members of one of the lodges approached the barrier, with a small number of supporters watching on.

After handing a letter of protest to the police officer co-ordinating the operation, they stood with their backs to the railings for over an hour before dispersing.

The intention was for the other two lodges to also walk to the barricade, but they did not arrive because a timing issue meant they missed a deadline set by the Parades Commission for loyal order members to leave.

Afterwards there was a minor incident on the nearby Crumlin Road when loyalist and nationalist youths shouted abuse at each other but police moved in swiftly to prevent trouble. Republicans tried to set fire to Union flags while some children threw a couple of bottles at police.

The main Belfast parade, the longest, had passed St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street without major incident. There has been a long-running confrontation between bandsmen and residents over songs played outside and tight restrictions were imposed.

Bands were told to only play a single drumbeat near the church, and most abided by the Parades Commission ruling.

Later a stand-off developed at Ardoyne between around 200 loyalists and republicans after the parade had passed without incident.

Riot police moved in among members of the republican crowd. The road was later reopened and the police operation stepped down.

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