Police 'optimistic' loyalist marching season will pass off peacefully
A senior police commander has expressed optimism that the height of Northern Ireland's loyal order marching season can pass off peacefully.
The PSNI officer in charge of the policing operation, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, said tensions ahead of the traditional Twelfth Of July parades were not as marked as in previous years
A deal to resolve the region's most volatile parading impasse - at the Ardoyne/Twaddell Avenue interface in north Belfast - collapsed last month. However, the breakdown of negotiations between the Orange Order and nationalist residents in the Ardoyne area were not accompanied by recriminations.
A protest camp has been manned in the unionist Twaddell Avenue area since the Orange Order was banned by the Parades Commission from marching through Ardoyne on its return from Twelfth Of July demonstrations in 2013.
The interface has been the scene of rioting and unrest during the marching season for years.
Briefing members of the Policing Board in Belfast, Mr Martin noted that a number of major summer loyal order parades have already passed off without incident.
"There is a sense of a reduced tension this year compared with last year," he said.
"We were all disappointed that the community resolution to the Twaddell impasse was unsuccessful but I think it was really positive the level of engagement that was going on there and, even though it was unsuccessful at this point, people have been very mature and very responsible in their words after that and I would hope that can get that revisited in the weeks and months that lie ahead."
He said thousands of officers would be on duty across Northern Ireland on July 12 - a day that will witness 594 parades. The vast majority pass off without incident every year, but a number of flashpoints continue to create negative headlines.
"We have been planning this for months now," said Mr Martin.
"We are optimistic it will go well. There obviously will be points of tension and those will require careful policing and sensitive policing."