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Relief as months of planning pay off

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 14/07/2016

There was a palpable sense of relief behind the scenes at police headquarters in Belfast after the Twelfth passed off peacefully.

For the commander in charge of an operation involving more than 3,000 officers across 11 districts monitoring more than 600 parades, the annual Orange Order demonstration is among the busiest and most challenging events on his calendar.

The parades throw up many of the well-known problems that lie at the very root of Northern Ireland's divided society.

And months of meticulous planning went into ensuring that the big day passed off without major incident.

While the general consensus was that there was less tension this year, particularly within loyalism, contingencies were still in place to deal with trouble if it flared at one of the remaining sectarian flashpoints.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: "We had planned for a variety of scenarios, from everything going as well as we could hope, to different levels of deterioration.

" But we were also mindful that it was important to try and make things as normal as possible."

Some 1,500 police vehicles were deployed on Tuesday, including 400 heavily armoured Land Rovers and 100 motorcycles, backed up by the PSNI's Air Support Unit.

In common with the rank-and-file officers, Mr Martin's mammoth shift started at the crack of dawn and followed a late night with just a few hours of interrupted sleep.

His office at the strategic command centre - a dedicated hub within the PSNI's sprawling Brooklyn complex - was a hive of activity. The long morning was peppered with a series of high-level briefings, meetings, phone calls and even visits from officials including Justice Minister Claire Sugden and Anne Connolly, chairwoman of the Policing Board.

Hopes of an early finish were dashed by a two-hour stand-off close to Ardoyne shopfronts that saw a number of minor incidents.

Tension increased when it looked like officers were being surrounded, but the concerns were short-lived and the mood quickly eased.

Just before signing off close to midnight, Mr Martin hailed the efforts of everyone involved. "Any tensions that have existed have been minor," he said.

And the senior policeman added: "Overall, it was a very good Twelfth of July... one of the best in several years."

Belfast Telegraph

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