The Orange Order intends to “bank” the successful and peaceful Twelfth of July celebrations this year and build on that success for the future.
That is according to the Order’s Grand Secretary, Rev Mervyn Gibson, who told the News Letter yesterday that, while challenges still lie ahead, this year’s focus on the potential for the Twelfth to attract business, tourism and “great PR for Northern Ireland” has been a triumph.
“It was a great success for everyone involved, both those involved in the parades, those watching the parades and those tourists who had come along to see it,” he said.
Rev Gibson continued: “That relaxed, family friendly atmosphere was replicated right across. No doubt, of course, there would have been a number of incidents but that’s inevitable. Without downplaying the few incidents that did take place, there are always going to be some minor issues when you have maybe 300,000 or 400,000 people on the streets of Northern Ireland celebrating.”
He added: “The police reported three arrests. It is incredible to have such little trouble.”
In fact, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd has described this year’s Twelfth of July celebrations as “a model for years to come”.
Asked about those comments, Rev Gibson said: “We will build on that. We welcome those comments and we’ll certainly work with all those we need to work with to make it an even better day for all those concerned.”
Examining the reasons for such a relaxed and family friendly Twelfth of July this year, he pointed to reduced “tension” in comparison with other years.
“We always intend our Twelfths to be peaceful but I would certainly recognise that there was less tension last year and this year,” he said.
“Part of that was the lack of physical protests against our parades which has helped.
“I have to acknowledge that. That lowers tension.”
He also pointed to a campaign to encourage less alcohol consumption on the day itself, and on the work with bodies such as the Tourist Board over the course of many years to maximise the positive economic impact of the Twelfth.
He added: “There has been work done for 10 years now with the shops in Belfast to make sure they are open so that they can get a benefit from the number of people coming into the city.
“There is also the street entertainment in the city. Now, that’s not something new but that’s something that’s been built on and our feedback is that there has been the best response to it this year compared to any other year.”
He continued: “As tensions go out of things people can come out and enjoy them.”
Acknowledging challenges that still lie ahead, Rev Gibson said: “Another thing is that we took a decision last year not to over publicise the problems we have with parades because it was ruining our Twelfth day.
“We decided to have a Twelfth day that concentrated on making it an enjoyable event for everyone. Now, that’s not to say the parading issue has been forgotten about - it certainly hasn’t. The parades issue is still with us and it needs a resolution urgently. We will continue to do that and look for that resolution.”
On a final note, Rev Gibson said: “I have to say that Wednesday was a great example of how the Twelfth can be but we are realists about this.
“This year has been a great success so let’s bank that and build on that.”