Police hope for late U-turn by Order over refusal to marshal flashpoints
Police chiefs are hoping for a last-minute U-turn by the Orange Order today over the marshalling of parades in flashpoint areas.
The Orange Order, the UPRG and the PUP say they will not be providing any support to police in protest over recent determinations by the Parades Commission.
Without marshals, PSNI officers will be forced to stand "nose to nose" with those in the parade.
Police sources say the absence of Orange Order and community marshals is "something that would concern us", but insisted that "violence is not inevitable."
"We don't know what 2015 is going to look like. But violence is not inevitable. Violence that occurs is a choice that people make," a senior police source said.
He added: "It would be very advantageous if the Orange Order said they would actively marshal and ask those in the community with influence to assist with that."
The officer admitted that tensions were high within the PUL (Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist) community.
More than 3,000 police officers will be involved in today's policing operation of 18 Orange Order and one Independent Orange Order parades across Northern Ireland.
In Belfast, where more than 10,000 people and 70 bands are expected to participate in the main demonstration, 1,500 PSNI officers will be specifically assigned in the city to try to ensure that parades pass off peacefully.
Water cannon, air support, police dogs and barriers are on standby if violence breaks out.
The biggest focus is on the return parade of three north Belfast lodges tonight. The lodges have been banned by the Parades Commission from returning along the Crumlin Road at the Ardoyne shops, at the interface between the Catholic and Protestant communities in the area.
Last year the return parade passed off peacefully after the Orange Order, with the support of senior loyalists linked to the UDA and UVF in north Belfast, carefully marshalled the parade.
Loyalists have been protesting nightly in the area since the summer of 2013 when the return parade was banned. Policing those protests has cost the PSNI £17m. Dissident republicans have launched five attacks on officers policing the protest, based at Twaddell Avenue. Luckily, there have been no serious injuries.
Two other potentially problematic areas for police are at Donegall Street beside St Patrick's Church and on the Newtownards Road close to Short Strand.
Should sustained, serious disorder erupt, the PSNI can also call on the support of 300 mutual aid officers from forces across the UK.