Peaceful start to marching season: Incident-free Apprentice Boys parades fuel hopes for easing of tensions
The Apprentice Boys of Derry have marked the traditional start of the annual marching season with parades through north and central Belfast.
Bands and marchers paraded without incident through the Ardoyne area and Belfast city centre yesterday.
Marchers, including the Apprentice Boys of Derry Faith Defenders, made their way from Belfast Orange Hall on Clifton Street, past Carrick Hill to nearby Donegall Street.
Further parades moved peacefully along the Crumlin Road and past the usually contentious Ardoyne shop fronts, which has seen some of the worst violence during past parades.
There was a small demonstration at the side of the Crumlin Road facing the shop fronts as the bands passed. Nationalist residents also held a peaceful protest on Clifton Street as marchers progressed towards the city centre.
DUP councillor Brian Kingston, who attended at both Twaddell near the Ardoyne shops and at Clifton Street, said he hoped yesterday's parades would set the tone for the rest of the marching season.
"I hope that there is not the need for protests, but if there is, that they should be conducted peacefully," he said. "I would also hope to see not only tolerance and respect for the loyal orders, but also good behaviour from those on parade as well."
Protesters held banners saying "Resolution Is Possible" and "Respect Our Community" while the marchers passed.
Chief Constable George Hamilton was present at both Ardoyne and Donegall Street to personally oversee the sizeable policing operation as the parades made their way past the contentious areas.
The return parades yesterday evening also passed off peacefully.
Frank Dempsey of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Group said that while the bands abided by the Parades Commission determination, offensive music was played at the earliest possible opportunity.
"They didn't break the determination but as soon as they were past the determination point they started playing the Famine Song," he said.
The Parades Commission determination said that bands should only play hymns when passing St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street.
"We find it's useless even drawing it to the attention of the Parades Commission," Mr Dempsey said. "The only people their determination seems to be enforced upon are the people protesting
"We have made it abundantly clear that we are prepared to sit down because we believe we can find a resolution but only if there's a willingness on both sides."
Mr Dempsey added: "I don't blame the band - the problem here is the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Order, it's their responsibility."