Twelfth celebrations hailed as most peaceful in years

Bandsmen and their supporters at Donegall Street in Belfast during the 12th of July celebrations. 'Picture: Pacemaker
Bandsmen and their supporters at Donegall Street in Belfast during the 12th of July celebrations. 'Picture: Pacemaker

This year’s Twelfth celebrations have been hailed as some of the most peaceful in recent times.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she “warmly welcomed” the outcome, while PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said he was pleased the parades had passed off largely successfully.

A major but low-key security operation was put in place following some violent clashes last year when dozens of officers were injured.

Water cannon was deployed and baton rounds were fired to quell rioters.

Appeals for no trouble were issued by a wide coalition of unionist leaders, including First Minister Peter Robinson, as well as nationalists.

Mr Robinson said: “The campaign for tolerance and respect for our culture has been strengthened and will continue.”

With three Ligoniel Orange lodges once again banned by the Parades Commission from completing their walk home along a stretch of the Crumlin Road adjacent to Ardoyne, each of the main parades were temporarily halted in protest.

Objecting to the commission’s decision, those on parade stopped for six minutes – the time it would take to pass the Ardoyne area – and a statement was read out calling for the commission to be scrapped.

Justice Minister David Ford said: “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.”

Early on the Twelfth one man was stabbed on the Ormeau Bridge during fighting between rival Catholic and Protestant gangs of around 40 people in south Belfast.

In Donegall Street there were minor scuffles after an Orange Order feeder parade passed St Patrick’s Catholic church.

Missiles were thrown from loyalist lines at police, and Mass-goers in St Patrick’s were trapped for a short period outside the church while 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.

As the three Ligoniel lodges reached police lines on the approach to the banned stretch of road near Ardoyne, bands played music, supporters cheered and sang and demonstrators carried a large protest banner.

A number of evening protest parades also took place on the Twelfth as part of the ‘graduated response’ to the Parades Commission’s ruling in Ardoyne.

Last week the Parades Commission said that it had received more than 509 applications for protest parades in towns and villages right across Northern Ireland.

The Orange Order said it had instructed its members not to organise the protests in contentious areas.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the fact that this year’s Twelfth commemorations have passed off relatively peacefully will have come as a relief.

He added: “However, there is urgent political work to be done to deal with ongoing difficulties which have bedevilled the political process.”