One in three police officers on duty in Northern Ireland today will be policing north Belfast, with the vast bulk of those policing one parade at Ardoyne.
The PSNI will have 3,500 officers deployed on parade duties today, the majority of whom will have a fairly low-profile role at demonstrations across the Province.
Police commanders are believed to be hopeful that the situation in the Ardoyne and Woodvale area will be markedly different from last year, when serious rioting broke out on the Twelfth evening and was repeated for several evenings.
Nevertheless, the PSNI will be deploying a massive number of officers to head off any attempt made to force the parade through or to begin inter-community violence at the Ardoyne interface.
Around 1,100 police officers will be on the ground in north Belfast tonight. Unlike last year, there will be no police officers from Great Britain in the area. However, under ‘mutual aid’ arrangements, the PSNI can call on additional officers from the UK mainland at 24 or 36 hours’ notice.
Across Northern Ireland, there will be 58 units of the PSNI’s specialist riot police — Tactical Support Group (TSG) officers — on the ground.
Each unit is made up of 25 officers, meaning that 1,450 specialist riot police will be on duty should there be trouble.
Meanwhile, the PSNI yesterday released guidance on what constitutes a lawful protest. Police said:
- White line protests (which involve a number of people standing in the centre of a road, not obstructing the flow of traffic and often displaying posters) constitute an open air public meeting. As such, they do not need to be notified to the PSNI or the Parades Commission.
- Causing an obstruction on the highway is an offence.
- Anyone on a road, who endangers their own or someone else’s safety is committing an offence. For example, in a white-line protest, if someone moves or endangers anyone else’s safety that becomes an offence.
- Causing danger to road users, by putting anything on the road, or interfering with a vehicle or traffic equipment is an offence.
- Police can arrest for any of these offences – fines can be issued or people taken into custody.
The PSNI said that people had the right to peacefully protest but that officers would “act appropriately to ensure that there is no unnecessary disruption caused to the public by such protest”.