Orange Order holds peaceful Ardoyne protest as the Twelfth comes to a close

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Members of the Orange Order have staged a peaceful protest in north Belfast after restrictions were imposed on their parade.

Bands played music, supporters cheered and sang and demonstrators carried a large protest banner as they were halted a short distance from the nationalist Ardoyne area. Some supporters held Union flag umbrellas against the rain.

The Parades Commission decided loyal order members should not be allowed to continue past the contested section of Ardoyne.

Last year a similar decision sparked days of loyalist rioting and pitched battles with police, while in earlier years republicans became violent after a small number of Orangemen were allowed to proceed.

At the 17 main parades across Northern Ireland, marchers stopped for six minutes - the time it would take to complete the Ardoyne parade - and a statement was read out calling for the commission to be scrapped.

A major security operation was put in place.

With the bill for policing parades and flag disputes in Northern Ireland over the last 20 months standing at around £55 million, there has been a significant effort to avoid further trouble this year.

This year has been overwhelmingly peaceful, although one man was stabbed on the Ormeau Bridge during fighting between rival Catholic and Protestant gangs of around 40 people in south Belfast early today.

The PSNI said the victim, 28, was taken to hospital but his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

The force arrested eight men overnight in relation to a number of sectarian disturbances across Belfast. Six have since been charged with public order offences.

Tens of thousands of Orangemen and their supporters marched at venues across Northern Ireland, with the overwhelming majority of parades being peaceful.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was pleased that the parades had passed off largely successfully and that those taking part were able to enjoy their day.

He added: “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.

“Our focus, as I have said since my appointment, is on keeping communities safe and our job has been made immensely easier today by the responsible attitude of all parties concerned.

“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. I hope that people continue to take responsibility for their own actions and they need to understand that, as I’ve said throughout the past couple of weeks, the police will do our piece to keep people safe and also to collect evidence where people step outside of the law.”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: ”I commend the leadership shown at all levels which has brought about the peaceful outcome to today’s Twelfth celebrations in North Belfast.

“The Orange Institution, community leaders and political representatives have worked tirelessly and unitedly to create the context for tonight’s successful conclusion.

“Despite severe provocation from republican elements and the scandalous decision of the Parades Commission, the world has witnessed a traditional Belfast Twelfth and a peaceful, lawful and effective protest this evening on the Woodvale Road.

“Tolerance and respect must be the key ingredients moving forwards.

“Work will continue to ensure that republican threats of violence are not allowed to dictate future developments.

“In north Belfast we will continue to work together to build on today’s peaceful Twelfth.”

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