Cool heads helped maintain calm in Northern Ireland during the Twelfth celebrations, the justice minister said.
Police, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and senior politicians in the devolved power-sharing administration at Stormont have lauded the peaceful outcome of Twelfth of July celebrations, which followed united unionist appeals for no trouble and nationalist efforts to defuse tensions.
Thousands of loyal order members commemorated the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 but there was virtually no confrontation and the flashpoint Ardoyne parade in North Belfast ended without violence.
Justice Minister David Ford said: “The professionalism shown by PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) officers has delivered a day of peaceful parades right across Northern Ireland and I congratulate all involved.
“Many people across the community worked to ensure the day passed peacefully and I welcome those efforts. This year we have shown how cool heads and careful words helped to keep the situation calm and I would hope that approach continues so we can work towards resolution of all contentious parades.”
Members of the Orange Order 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 residential area. Some supporters held Union flag umbrellas against the rain.
The sectarian interface in north Belfast has been a flashpoint for violence in recent years, but this time appeals for no trouble were issued by a wide coalition of unionist leaders, including First Minister Peter Robinson, as well as nationalists.
Ms Villiers said: “The Orange Order and unionist leaders are to be commended for the intensive work they have done to bring that about. Nationalist leaders also played their part in working hard to defuse local tensions.
The chief constable and the PSNI displayed great professionalism throughout in keeping people safe and secure. They have my sincere thanks for all that they do. As ever we are indebted to them.
“It is important that we build on this, by continuing to work for locally agreed solutions to contentious parades. This Government will continue to do all we can to encourage a way forward.”
Chief constable George Hamilton said he was pleased that the parades had passed off largely successfully.
The Parades Commission, a government-appointed body that adjudicates on marches and has become anathema to loyalists, 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 had been put in place after last year’s violence, when dozens of officers were injured and deployed water cannon and baton rounds to quell rioters.
This year marshals from the Orange Order formed a cordon between loyalists and bandsmen, and police lines enforcing the Parades Commission-ordered halt.
There was a large security presence in the area, with more than 40 armoured police vehicles, two water cannons and more than 1,000 officers deployed, many wearing protective body armour.
With the bill for policing parades and flag disputes in Northern Ireland over the last 20 months standing at around £55 million, there was a significant effort to avoid further trouble this year.
Almost 700 people were charged or reported to prosecutors in Northern Ireland last year in relation to parade and protest-related disorder.
This year has been relatively 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 yesterday.
The PSNI said the victim, 28, was taken to hospital but his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.
There were minor scuffles near Belfast city centre after an Orange Order feeder parade passed St Patrick’s Catholic church in Donegall Street.
Missiles were thrown from loyalist lines at police and mass-goers in St Patrick’s were trapped for a short period outside the church as loyalist marching bands filed past, most playing a single drum beat after complaints about provocation in previous years.
The PSNI is investigating claims that a loyalist band broke a determination from the Parades Commission that barred music being played as the parade passed the church.