Twelfth of July Orange Order marches in north Belfast pass off peacefully
Orange Order hold peaceful protest in response to Parades Commission determination
Contentious loyalist parades in north Belfast have passed off peacefully despite concerns the city could face the similar scenes of violence witnessed last year.
Members of the Orange Order staged a peaceful protest at the Ardoyne interface this evening.
Whereas last year's celebrations had been marred by intense violence between police and loyalists, there was no sign of the same trouble this time around.
Bands played music, supporters cheered and sang and demonstrators carried a large protest banner as they were halted a short distance from the nationalist Ardoyne area. Some supporters held Union flag umbrellas against the rain.
Police erected security barriers in place ahead of the return parade along a stretch of the Crumlin Road that separates unionist and nationalist communities.
Today, the Orange Order said it pledged to "make Northern Ireland a better place by getting rid of the Parades Commission".
Taking on his first major event in his new role as PSNI chief constable, George Hamilton said he was "pleased that today’s Twelfth parades have passed off largely successfully".
"This has been due to a number of factors, including responsible leadership from a range of groups such as the Orange Order," he said.
"I welcome the repeated pleas from the Orange Order and politicians from all sides for all parades and protests to be peaceful and lawful."
"Our focus, as I have said since my appointment, is on keeping communities safe and our job has been made immensely easier today by the responsible attitude by all parties concerned."
DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he commended the "leadership shown at all levels which has brought about the peaceful outcome to today's Twelfth celebrations in north Belfast".
"The Orange Institution, community leaders and political representatives have worked tirelessly and unitedly to create the context for tonight's successful conclusion," he said.
"Despite severe provocation from republican elements and the scandalous decision of the Parades Commission, the world has witnessed a traditional Belfast Twelfth and a peaceful, lawful and effective protest this evening on the Woodvale Road."
Parades during all 17 Twelfth demonstrations stopped for six minutes to oppose determinations by the Parades Commission.
That included those barring Ligoniel lodges from making their return journey.
As many as 3,500 PSNI officers were deployed across Northern Ireland.
This year, up to 50 protest parades were planned by the Orange Order across Northern Ireland, response to the determination by the Parades Commission to once again stop marchers from passing by the Ardoyne shop fronts.
North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness welcomed what he said was a "largely peaceful finish" to the north Belfast parades.
"This reflects a great deal of work undertaken by political and community representatives in the run up to today," said the SDLP man.
"Although there were a number of breaches of Parades Commission determinations, which should be examined by the commission in the coming weeks, the dignity of residents in Ardoyne and at Carrickhill was absolute."
Elsewhere, hundreds of marchers made their way past St Patrick's church at Donegall Street at around 7pm this evening.
Once again there was a small protest from nationalist residents at two points along the route - as the rain continued.
There were brief scuffles with police and a number of missiles thrown as police dealt with supporters around 100 metres away at the road's junction with Union Street.
Bands passing the church largely stuck to the Parades Commission ruling of a single drumbeat along the stretch beginning at the junction with Union Street.
But at least one band breached the determination - playing music past the church.
Mass goers were caught outside St Patrick's for a time as bands passed by, but there were no instances of any trouble.
Meanwhile across Belfast and Northern Ireland thousands lined the streets for the annual Twelfth parades.
Around 50,000 Orangemen and band members attended 17 Twelfth demonstrations organised by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.
In Belfast, lodges from nine districts and some 90 bands will make their way from Clifton Street along the six-mile route to the field at Barnett Desmesne.
This year's three flagship events are to take place in Limavady, Markethill and Larne. (click here to see video from Larne)
Orangemen from the border counties will gather in Irvinestown, while the north Down demonstration is in Newtownards.