Twelfth of July: 3,000 police officers to help keep the peace
More than 3,000 police officers will be deployed to help keep the peace during the annual Twelfth of July parades in Northern Ireland.
Tensions are running high in a number of flashpoint areas of Belfast but the Orange Order and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have appealed for calm.
In a statement, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland said: "The Twelfth has always been, and will remain, a day of celebration and a family day out. Those who oppose us seek to destroy this. They must not be allowed to succeed.
"Anyone who responds with violence to such provocation only does a disservice to our cause and undermines all that we stand for."
The Twelfth is the most significant date on the loyalist calendar when the victory of the protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is celebrated.
This year more than 10,000 people are expected to take part in over 800 Orange Order demonstrations across the region on Monday July 13.
Although most parades pass off peacefully, the Parades Commission - a Government-appointed body set up to rule on contentious marches - has imposed restrictions on more than 50 events deemed "sensitive".
The Orange Order has branded the Parades Commission "discredited and inept" and members have picketed its headquarters to vent opposition to a number of recent determinations.
The biggest commemoration will be in Belfast where 71 bands and hundreds of Orangemen will march through the city centre.
An estimated 1,500 PSNI officers will be on duty to monitor the parade which, at its peak, could take longer than an hour to pass any given point.
One of the largest policing operations will be mounted at Ardoyne, a volatile community interface in north Belfast where opposing factions have clashed with police in the past.
As it did last year, permission has been given, with restrictions, for Orangemen to parade down a disputed section of the Crumlin Road on the morning of July 12.
But the evening parade, when Orangemen return from traditional celebrations elsewhere, has been prohibited from passing along the road.
Loyalists have manned a protest camp in the area since the restrictions were first imposed in 2013 requiring a policing operation costing around £17 million.
Nationalist residents groups are also expected to stage protests to show their opposition to the Orange Order.
Last year there was no disorder in Ardoyne, but in 2013 loyalists attacked police lines.
In previous years republicans have rioted in the area.
Meanwhile, there will also be a significant police presence in east Belfast where sectarian tensions have increased between communities in the Newtownards Road and Short Strand areas.
The PSNI has said most of its 58 public order units would be on standby in Belfast.
Although water canon and baton rounds could be used to quell any rioting, senior officers have urged the Orange Order and loyalist leaders to avoid the potential for violence by providing marshals.
Mervyn Gibson, Orange Order chaplain, said they would monitor parades.
He said: "It is our job to marshal the parades and we will. But we cannot do the police's job to deal with any violence. We hope that no violence occurs."
The PSNI also has the ability to call in reinforcements from other forces across the UK but commanders have stressed the move would be a last resort in "extreme" circumstances.
Belfast Telegraph Digital