PSNI vows to hold the line again at parade flashpoint
Marchers taking part in today's Orange Order parade through north Belfast will encounter the same major policing operation which was present on the Twelfth.
The contentious parade will set off on the same route as that taken on Friday of last week, with those taking part again prevented from passing the Ardoyne shops.
Instead the 500 marchers expected and their supporters will be blocked by a huge police presence at Woodvale Parade on the Woodvale Road.
Police were widely praised last week for holding the line at that location despite sustained attacks from loyalists following the Twelfth march.
And a senior officer yesterday said police would take the same robust approach against those intent on trouble at this afternoon's parade. "It's a big, big policing operation," the officer said. "We will have a very, very significant number of resources out there."
Fears trouble could return to the streets this weekend intensified on Thursday when the Parades Commission adjudication body blocked a fresh application by north Belfast Orangemen to parade along the route today.
On July 12, a crowd of around 5,000 was involved in a stand-off with police at Woodvale Parade which quickly spiralled into fierce rioting described as "almost animalistic" by police. Officers quickly responded with baton rounds and water cannon.
Police will also be present at Twaddell Avenue with a sizeable presence also in place in the east of the city. Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson (left) said there would be another protest today when the march meets the police line.
"There will be a limited protest if the march is not allowed to pass," he said. "That is all we have asked for and that is all the Orange Order is doing. We have not been asked to endorse any other protests. The protest won't be very long. It hasn't yet been decided if we will apply for a parade every Saturday. We have already talked to residents and we haven't said we wouldn't talk to them again."
A Union flag protest group also issued a call on Facebook for supporters to take to the streets at the same time across Belfast to deliberately stretch police resources.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers warned parade-related violence would only damage efforts to attract investment.
"People who break the law should be in no doubt that there will be arrests and prosecutions," she said. "It also has a serious impact on our reputation as we try and compete in the global race for investment and jobs."
Thursday's ruling was the second time the commission blocked Orangemen from parading on the stretch of the Crumlin Road separating loyalist and nationalist communities. The Orange institution branded the decision an indictment of a discredited organisation but appealed for peace on the streets.
More than 70 police officers have been injured in the clashes with 75 people arrested to date.
Around 500 marchers will set off from Brookemount Street at 2.45pm today before making their way along the Shankill Road and on to the Woodvale Road. Rather than proceed on to the Crumlin Road towards Ligoniel Orange Hall, marchers will be blocked at Woodvale Parade.
The Parades Commission has ruled there must be no stoppages or delays during the parade, which it says must disperse by 4.30pm.
Meanwhile, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr and other senior police commanders met representatives from the unionist community in east Belfast yesterday to discuss concerns around parading.