Belfast Telegraph

One of the quietest Twelfths in years, say thankful police as flashpoints fail to spark

By Staff Reporter

Police leaders have hailed one of the quietest Twelfth of July celebrations in years, with no significant injuries to officers.

A number of flashpoint marches passed off on Tuesday without any major incidents.

Chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Mark Lindsay said that, from the perspective of rank-and-file officers, it was one of the most successful Twelfths in recent years.

"We didn't have officers hurt in street confrontations or standoffs, and that's what we have been working to achieve," he said.

"Loyal orders, community groups, local politicians and statutory bodies worked alongside the police to achieve this result, and it is one I would like to see built upon. We can achieve much more as a society if we work for common goals."

A police officer was injured when he was knocked down in Co Tyrone, and there was a tense standoff between loyalists and republicans at a notorious interface in north Belfast, but in comparison with the serious rioting that marred previous Twelfths the day was largely trouble-free.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin passed his best wishes to the injured officer, and giving an overall view of the day, he added: "Undoubtedly, from a policing perspective this has been one of the most successful Twelfths in recent years."

Marches near Catholic churches in east Belfast and the city centre were largely uneventful, while the Parades Commission blocking of a contentious march at the Ardoyne/Woodvale interface prompted only a low-key protest by around a dozen Orangemen.

Mr Martin, who oversaw the PSNI's Twelfth operations, said in the coming days police would examine evidence relating to any alleged criminal offences committed over the period, including hate crimes linked to placement of items on bonfires.

More than 3,000 officers were on duty in Northern Ireland on the day.

During recent Twelfths police have come under attack at a temporary barrier on Woodvale Road as they enforced a determination by the Parades Commission to prevent three Orange lodges and their supporters from passing the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood.

Last month a deal between the Orange Order and Ardoyne residents to resolve the bitter impasse fell through.

But community workers on both sides of the divide expressed hope the work can be salvaged in the future.

This year, in an apparently pre-planned move, a dozen members of Ballysillan lodge approached the barrier, watched by a few supporters.

After handing in a protest letter, they stood with their backs to the railings for over an hour before dispersing. Two other lodges expected to walk to the barricade did not arrive, apparently because of a timing issue with the main Belfast parade they were taking part in.

Ballysillan was the only one of three restricted lodges to oppose the mooted deal with residents.

After its members left and the Woodvale Road reopened focus shifted to the nearby community interface where loyalists and republicans had gathered on either side of the roundabout at the Ardoyne shops. A number of minor incidents unfolded in a two-hour standoff, with riot police stepping in more than once to defuse trouble, but the tension eventually dissipated and the crowds left the scene.

Earlier, the main Belfast parade passed St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street without major incident.

A parade past St Matthew's Catholic Church on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast - the scene of disorder in previous years - also passed without incident.

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