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Thousands of police for loyal order parades despite hope for peaceful main event

Published 10/07/2016

Authorities are cautiously optimistic of a peaceful main fixture, in the Ardoyne, in the loyal order parading season
Authorities are cautiously optimistic of a peaceful main fixture, in the Ardoyne, in the loyal order parading season

Authorities in Northern Ireland are cautiously optimistic the main fixture in the loyal order parading season can pass off peacefully, but have a major policing operation planned to deal with any unrest.

While the vast majority of the almost 600 parades are free of trouble each "Twelfth of July", the threat of disorder at a small number of remaining marching flashpoints always has the potential to mar the day.

Thousands of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers will be deployed to parades across Northern Ireland on Tuesday, with contingency plans in place to call on additional Mutual Aid support from other UK forces if required.

PSNI commanders are confident such back-up from Great Britain will not be needed this year.

The Twelfth commemorates the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.

Senior officers and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers have voiced optimism for the day, noting a sense of reduced community tensions ahead of the event.

A number of early summer parades that in the past have been the source of discord have passed off without major incident in 2016.

A deal to resolve the region's most volatile Twelfth parading impasse - at the Ardoyne/Twaddell Avenue community interface in north Belfast - collapsed last month.

However, the breakdown of negotiations between the Orange Order and nationalist residents in the Ardoyne area was not accompanied by the recriminations some might have expected.

A loyalist protest camp has been manned in the unionist Twaddell Avenue area since the Orange Order was banned by the Government-appointed panel that adjudicates on contentious marches - the Parades Commission - from parading past the nationalist Ardoyne on its return from the main Belfast Twelfth demonstrations in 2013.

A subsequent police operation to monitor the camp and interface has cost around £20 million.

The area has been the scene of rioting on a number of previous Twelfths - with republicans and loyalists both having engaged in violence.

Construction on huge loyalist bonfires, which are traditionally lit on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations, are nearing completion.

Controversy surrounds a number of the structures.

Last year, homes near Chobham Street in east Belfast had to be evacuated over fears the giant nearby bonfire could topple on to property.

While this year's bonfire in the area has been moved away from those homes and is set to be smaller in scale, the fire is still the source of contention.

Equipment in a newly-built children's play park has had to be moved amid fears of damage.

At the huge Ballybeen bonfire at Dundonald in greater Belfast, environmental concerns about noxious fumes have been raised after footage emerged of a large number of tyres being dumped at the site for burning.

Alcohol has undoubtedly been a factor in the disorder witnessed during previous Twelfths.

The Orange Order has been pro-active this year encouraging Orangemen and women, loyalist bands and supporters to stay off the drink with a campaign titled "It's about the battle, not the bottle".

The Order plans to hand out thousands of bottles of water branded with the slogan on the day.

Away from the Twaddell dispute, one of the other main areas of concern this year - in the Castlemara estate in Carrickfergus - is actually linked to tensions within loyalist paramilitarism, rather a parading dispute with nationalists.

Ms Villiers said she hoped the Twelfth could be a "successful and enjoyable day".

"I think there is a degree of optimism around the parading season, the big events coming up," she said.

"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 and 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."

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has stressed the importance of communication to avoid tension.

"It is clear that dialogue is critical in the management of any event that involves the gathering of large volumes of people," he said at July's meeting of his oversight body, the NI Policing Board.

"I am 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."

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

In a joint statement, they said: "The celebration of different memories, cultures and traditions in a respectful, dignified and peaceful manner has the potential to enrich our society. Equally, some may wish to protest and it is essential this is done in a way that is peaceful and does not undermine law and order.

"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.

"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.

"Regardless of background we wish everyone a peaceful and enjoyable bank holiday."

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