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Thousands of officers on standby, but hopes high for quiet Twelfth

By Deborah McAleese

Published 11/07/2016

Optimistic: George Hamilton
Optimistic: George Hamilton

Thousands of police officers are on standby should violence erupt at contentious Orange Order parades tomorrow.

The biggest policing operation will be in north Belfast, where an attempt by loyalists and republicans to reach a deal over the Ardoyne parading dispute failed last month.

However, the police and government are optimistic that the Twelfth will pass off peacefully this year.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton told the Policing Board he was "encouraged by the level of positive dialogue that is currently taking place in our communities".

He added: "I think it does a create a more optimistic outlook for the rest of the parading season."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said "there is a degree of optimism around the parading season".

"It is of course very important with big public events of this size that every effort is made to ensure they are peaceful and orderly," she said.

"I am very much aware all the detailed preparation that the PSNI put into this and also I know there are many people across the community who are involved in both parades and protests, who are also working hard to try to ensure that the Twelfth of July is a peaceful, orderly and successful day."

First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Justice Minister Claire Sugden have called for a "peaceful, respectful and safe parading season".

"As we move into a period which has in the past resulted in heightened tensions, we encourage everyone to conduct themselves in a dignified and lawful way", the ministers said in a joint statement.

They added: "We all have a responsibility to show leadership and to continue to seek resolutions to contentious issues through discussion and ensure any difficulties are identified and resolved peacefully, thus showing respect for the views and wishes of everyone in the community.

"We want to build a future that is respectful, inclusive and vibrant.

"Dialogue and engagement are key to ensuring mutual understanding and co-operation, and we welcome the ongoing commitment of all involved to maintaining a peaceful and safe society".

Meanwhile, calls have been made for urgent financial aid for traders in Ardoyne, who say they are "crippled" by the parading dispute.

The finance and economy ministers have been asked to prepare a financial package to assist those north Belfast business owners who have seen a "devastating drop in trade" over the past three years due to the Twaddell protest camp and parading stand-off.

"The impact of the camp, the nightly parades, the heavy police presence night after night and the breakdown in community relations is decimating their businesses," said North Belfast SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon.

"If £21m can be found to police the illegal camp at Twaddell, surely a tiny sum can be found to help out these traders," she said.

Ms Mallon added: "I have called on the finance and economy ministers to urgently prepare a financial package to give them some assistance.

"Central to this package, I believe, must be a period of rates relief and capital investment to improve this shopping area."

Belfast Telegraph

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