Northern Ireland Parades Pass Off Peacefully

The biggest day in Northern Ireland’s often turbulent marching season has passed off peacefully.

Thousands of members of the Protestant Orange Order took part in 600 parades across the country.

North Belfast lodges, bandsmen and supporters held a peaceful protest when their march was halted.

The Parades Commission had prohibited them from returning home through the mainly Catholic Ardoyne district.

They vowed a “graduated response” to the restriction and said they would contest it politically over the coming weeks and months.

They march on the Twelfth of July to commemorate the victory of King William III over his Catholic rival King James in 1690.

Many Unionists and Loyalists regard the traditional parades as an expression of their culture.

But some Nationalists and Republicans are offended by what they view as a demonstration of dominance.

Tensions tend to rise at this time of the year, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland often caught in the middle.

Some 3,000 officers were deployed to police the parades, a third of them to the flashpoint at Ardoyne.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “I am pleased that today’s Twelfth parades have passed off largely successfully and that those taking part were able to enjoy their day.

“This has been due to a number of factors, including responsible leadership from a range of groups such as the Orange Order.

“I welcome the repeated pleas from the Orange Order and politicians from all sides for all parades and protests to be peaceful and lawful.

“We have had a quiet and peaceful parading season up to and including today and I hope that this continues for the rest of the summer.”

With the bill for policing parades and flag disputes over the last 18 months topping 55m, there had been efforts to prevent violence.

Six people were charged with public order offences following disturbances in north and west Belfast overnight.

But more than 600 were charged with public order offences as a result of disorder around parades and protests last year.

There were fewer incidents than usual following 11th night bonfires but three men were stabbed in separate sectarian clashes.

Police also had to deal with the discovery of a letter bomb at Northern Ireland’s main postal sorting office.

Army technical officers were called to the distribution centre at Mallusk, north of Belfast, to defuse the small device.

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