Police hail peaceful Twelfth of July amid 'massive' step forward in relations
Northern Ireland has enjoyed one of its most peaceful Twelfth of July days for years, police said.
The Orange Order paraded past the Ardoyne flashpoint in North Belfast on Wednesday morning without violent protests and agreed not to hold its return evening procession in what local representatives said was a massive step forward for community relations.
It followed a deal struck by residents and belied the current stalemate between the two largest political parties which has left the country without devolved government for months.
Wednesday was the culmination of the loyal order's marching season when thousands took to streets across Northern Ireland.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) assistant chief constable Alan Todd said officers made a small number of arrests.
He added: "These were very much in the margins of what has been widely described as the most peaceful Twelfth of July for some years and a model for years to come."
A small number of annual marches by the Orange Order have been blighted by serious violence involving supporters or protesters in the past.
At one stage Ardoyne was a byword for conflict at this time of year.
This year hundreds of loyalist bandsmen marched noisily past the front of Ardoyne shops followed by Orangemen in collarettes in an early-morning parade.
Only a handful of local residents watched them, with no sign of the dissident republicans who have helped heighten tensions in recent years.
As part of the deal an evening return parade was cancelled.
There was a heavy police presence in the residential side streets but the riot-trained officers were not called into action.
Fr Gary Donegan, a Catholic priest who has spent years working in Ardoyne, said: "Every step that happens here, no matter how small it is, is massive."
The parades mark King William of Orange's victory over James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.
Politics has overshadowed this year's marching season but it was agreed to halt substantive discussions between the parties until after the summer.
A dispute between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein has seen political tensions rising in recent weeks after efforts to restore devolved powersharing at Stormont failed to produce a breakthrough.
One of the sticking points is Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish language act, which the Democratic Unionists want to see reciprocated by protection for Ulster Scots.
Orange Order deputy grand master Harold Henning said: "Sinn Fein want Northern Ireland to look and feel more Irish than the Republic of Ireland - and for our taxpayers to foot the bill.
"This militant cultural imperialism must be resisted by our elected representatives - whom we have just recently mandated to represent our interests and those of the Union."