Twelfth protests peaceful, but tensions remain high
Thousands of Orangemen paraded across the North yesterday amid tight security during the annual Twelfth of July demonstrations.
Over 3,500 PSNI officers — almost half the North’s police force — ringed potential flashpoint areas and blocked off roads during what the Chief Constable George Hamilton described as a potentially “volatile” period.
A contentious early morning parade in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast passed without incident, despite some verbal exchanges between Nationalist residents and Orangemen from the tiny Ligoniel District, which was banned from returning by the same route yesterday evening.
To highlight Unionist opposition to that Parades Commission ruling, all of the parades to the 17 Twelfth venues paused for six minutes to symbolise the short time it would have taken for the north Belfast lodges to pass the interface area a second time.
Eight men were arrested for public order offences after Eleventh night bonfires were set ablaze to celebrate King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne.
In south Belfast, a man was stabbed in the back during minor sectarian disturbances in the Ormeau area, one of three stabbings in the city overnight.
In the Loyalist Rathcoole area, just outside Belfast, the Dunanney Community Centre was gutted following a petrol bomb attack. Meanwhile, in Ballycastle, in County Antrim, an Orange Hall was daubed with sectarian slogans. A viable letter bomb was also intercepted at the main postal sorting office at Newtownabbey, outside Belfast. A significant police presence remained in north Belfast throughout yesterday in preparation for the return parade of the Ligoniel lodges, which was expected to lead to a planned “peaceful” protest on the Woodvale Road which the Orange Order leadership said would be replicated in all District areas.
The protests are part of what the Order and senior Unionist politicians have described as a “graduated response” to the Parades Commission’s decision to block the Ligoniel lodges from returning to their home District via the Crumlin Road, which includes the flashpoint Ardoyne area.
Last year a similar decision resulted in sustained attacks on police lines in the nearby Loyalist Woodvale area, which lasted for a number of nights. The Orange Order leadership this year has made a number of statements insisting all protests last night were to remain peaceful.
However, the alliance of Unionist parties and Orangemen, which Nationalist politicians have described as a ‘pan-Loyalist front’ that includes representatives of parties with links to the proscribed Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, has warned that protest actions will endure beyond the Twelfth period.
The North’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, also warned the protests will eventually also affect local council, Stormont, Westminster and EC functions.
They have also demanded the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to examine controversial rulings by the North’s Parades Commission which have resulted in a small number of Orange parades being refused permission to walk in areas of Belfast and Portadown. Despite yesterday’s largely peaceful atmosphere, there are concerns Loyalist or dissident republican elements could generate trouble in flashpoint areas over the coming days.