Celebrations smaller due to Covid restrictions, but that can’t spoil day
The Orange Order has said it plans to return to its traditional Twelfth in 2022 after hailing this year’s celebrations a “great success”.
The big annual demonstrations had been cancelled in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and this year’s were more intimate, with hundreds of smaller parades taking place in towns and villages.
In west Belfast a nationalist protest at Springfield Road was cancelled after the Orange Order dropped plans to walk through peace line gates at Workman Avenue.
Orange grand master Edward Stevenson, who spent the afternoon with his own district in Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone, said: “Today we witnessed a huge turnout at 100 parades across the province — many lodges swelled with new members, excellent bands and a large turnout of spectators. Those who say our institution, our culture and traditions, are dying will have been very disappointed.
“It was no easy task for districts to organise in the region of 100 parades.
"However, they stepped up to the challenge and have delivered events which ensured that not only was the 331st anniversary of King William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne appropriately marked, but that the Orange family continued to put the best interests of the wider community to the fore in relation to Covid-19.
“The vibrancy of our culture was on display today right across Northern Ireland, as our brethren, sisters, juniors and the bands community came together in celebration.
"I know from speaking to many people that the return of our Twelfth parades, even in this different format which saw smaller parades within local areas, has been a welcome sight.
“In the days and weeks ahead as we reflect on any lessons that can be learned from the 2021 Twelfth celebrations, we will do so in the knowledge that, God willing, a return to our traditional Twelfth demonstrations will be the main the focus for 2022.”
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said he was pleased the day had passed without incident.
“I would like to thank and acknowledge all of the people who helped make this a safe and enjoyable day for many,” he said.
“We will be continuing our duties throughout the night to keep our communities safe.”
While it was largely a day of celebration, there was still a warning of continuing loyalist anger over the Irish Sea border.
In Limavady district master Mark Smith had strong words for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The protocol should be scrapped immediately, he said.
“There shouldn’t be an Irish Sea border to divide us off from the rest of the United Kingdom.
"That is our stance and I would call on our Prime Minister, our Secretary of State and those within the Assembly at Stormont to stop the protocol immediately, or else the Stormont Executive should be crushed and brought to the ground.”
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson marched with the Ballinran Orange Lodge in Kilkeel, Co Down.
“This is the community in which I grew up, my family still live here and it is great to come back and to meet people that I haven’t met up with in years,” he said.
“It is a very much scaled-down parade of what it would normally be but it is good to see some parading resuming on the Twelfth.
"I think people are just glad to have a day out.”
In Londonderry his party colleague Gary Middleton said it was a relief to be back on parade.
The Foyle MLA said: “It’s great because there have been no parades for quite some time.
"There is a nice positive atmosphere as people are just looking forward to getting out and parading again and obviously meeting up with their friends as well.
“It is a positive day, it’s a peaceful day, as it always has been recently in the city. It’s always great to be local, it means we can see a lot more familiar faces as well.
“People can stand in their gardens and watch the parade as it passes – particularly in the Waterside as it passes through a lot of the estates. It’s great.”
“I hope people just enjoyed themselves and the atmosphere.
"This is about enjoying what the day is about but also staying safe and within the guidelines.”
Sinn Fein’s Fra McCann later criticised loyalists who intimidated residents at Hamill Street and Barrack Street in Belfast city centre. Footage online showed male and female loyalist youths in the mainly nationalist area.
“The crowds antagonised local residents, waving flags and chanting sectarian songs as well as urinating in the street and vomiting on people’s property,” he said.