Police praise as Orange Order parades pass peacefully
A police commander has described a major security operation around traditional Twelfth of July loyal order parades in Northern Ireland as the most successful in years.
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin's assessment came after a number of flashpoint marches went without any major incidents.
"We have seen over 600 parades right across Northern Ireland go very well indeed," said the senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer.
"They have been overwhelmingly peaceful and any tensions that have existed have been minor."
A police officer was injured when he was knocked down in Co Tyrone and there was a tense stand-off between loyalists and republicans at a notorious interface in north Belfast, but in comparison with the serious rioting that has marred previous Twelfths, the day was largely trouble-free.
Mr Martin passed his best wishes to the injured officer and giving an overall view of the day, he added: "Undoubtedly, from a policing perspective this has been one of the most successful Twelfths in recent years."
Marches near Catholic churches in east Belfast and the city centre were largely uneventful while the blocking of a contentious Orange Order parade at the Ardoyne/Woodvale interface in north Belfast prompted only a low-key protest by around a dozen Orangemen.
One of the most serious developments unfolded long before the parades got under way, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when embers from an "Eleventh Night" bonfire on Belfast's Shankill Road ignited a blaze in an adjacent row of terraced homes, gutting two of the properties.
In other bonfire-related incidents, a pet owner in Antrim said his cat sustained serious burns after it climbed on to a bonfire that was then lit, while Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan apologised after being pictured posing in front of a bonfire which had an Irish tricolour placed on top.
Loyalists have faced criticism in recent years for putting items linked with the nationalist/republican tradition on bonfires and lighting them.
Mr Martin, who oversaw the PSNI's Twelfth operations, said over the coming days police would be examining evidence relating to any alleged criminal offences committed over the period, including 'hate crimes' linked to placement of items on bonfires.
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 overshadow the day.
More than 3,000 police officers were on duty across Northern Ireland throughout the day.
During recent Twelfths, police have come under attack at a temporary barrier on Belfast's Woodvale Road as they enforced a determination by the Parades Commission - the body which adjudicates on contentious marches - to prevent three Orange lodges and their supporters from passing the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood.
Last month, a deal between the Orange Order and Ardoyne residents to resolve the bitter impasse fell through, but community workers on both sides of the divide have expressed hope the work can be salvaged in the future.
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.
After handing a letter of protest to the police officer co-ordinating the operation, the members of the Ballysillan lodge 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 with the main Belfast parade, which they were taking part in, meant they missed a deadline set by the Parades Commission for Orangemen to leave the contested stretch of road.
Ballysillan was the only one of the three restricted lodges that opposed the mooted deal with the residents.
After its members left the barrier and the Woodvale Road reopened, focus quickly shifted to the nearby community interface where crowds of loyalists and republicans had gathered on either side of the roundabout at the Ardoyne shops.
A number of minor incidents unfolded during a two hour stand-off, with riot police stepping in on more than one occasion to prevent trouble developing, but the tension eventually dissipated and the crowds left the scene.
Earlier, the main Belfast parade had passed St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street in the city centre without major incident.
There has been a long confrontation between bandsmen and residents over songs played outside and tight restrictions were imposed.
Bands were told to play only a single drumbeat near the church. While most abided by the Parades Commission ruling, some musicians breached the restriction.
A parade past St Matthew's Catholic Church on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast - the scene of disorder in previous years - also passed without incident.
The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mark Lindsay, said that, from the perspective of his members, it was one of the most successful Twelfth days in recent years.
"We didn't have officers hurt in street confrontations or stand-offs, and that's what we have been working to achieve," he said.
"Loyal orders, community groups, local politicians and statutory bodies worked alongside the police to achieve this result, and it is one I would like to see built upon.
"We can achieve much more as a society if we work for common goals."