Wednesday’s Twelfth demonstrations were the most peaceful for many years and a “model for years to come,” a top police officer has said.
Tens of thousands of spectators of all ages lined the streets of 19 districts for the Province-wide annual colourful displays of Orange culture and tradition.
Although nationalist protests and confrontations in some areas have marred previous Twelfth celebrations, this year’s events passed off unopposed and without any adverse incidents of note.
One potential flashpoint in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast passed proved peaceful after a local arrangement between the Ligoniel lodges and a nationalist residents’ group – facilitating a morning parade only with no return leg.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I am pleased that what was a lovely sunny day also turned out to be a lovely day for the thousands who attended the various demonstrations across the country,” he said.
“We have dealt with a number of minor incidents throughout the day and have made a small number of arrests but these were very much in the margins of what has been widely described as the most peaceful Twelfth of July for some years and a model for years to come.”
Orange Order grand master Edward Stevenson said he was delighted with the “unprecedented numbers of people celebrating the largest annual festival” in Northern Ireland.
Mr Stevenson said: “The 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne will be forever remembered for the unprecedented numbers of people celebrating the largest annual festival in Northern Ireland.
“The wonderful weather exceeded our expectations; as did the tens of thousands of our members, band personnel and supporters, taking part in or lining the routes of 18 venues across the Province.
“Such a phenomenal spectacle bears testament to the continuing relevance and wide appeal of Orangeism.”
Speaking at the Ballynahinch demonstration earlier in the day, Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning used his platform speech to attack those demanding increased Irish language rights.
“Republicans have driven more people away from ever cultivating a genuine interest in Irish language than they will ever attract to it through their current radical proposals,” he said.
“The current demand for an Irish Language Act is simply the next chapter in the republican campaign to rid Northern Ireland of any semblance of British cultural identity.”
At the Twelfth field in Bangor, Sinn Fein was in the firing line of the Order’s Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson.
He said: “The context of republican aggression may have changed, the tactics moved from murder to attacking politically our parades and traditions; words of war have given way to meaningless words of respect – toleration – equality; but the challenge remains. Sinn Fein want a united Ireland and everything they do seeks to advance that goal.”
Rev Gibson said the Order would not agree to meet Sinn Fein as requested by the party’s leader Gerry Adams.
“We have 334 reasons not to meet Sinn Fein, as our memorial widow testifies to – men and women murdered – many because they served in the security forces fighting the IRA; the grief and hurt of the families bereaved would be compounded by such an engagement, as Sinn Fein crave,” Rev Gibson said.
Speaking at the Cloughmills demonstration, former grand master of Scotland Ian Wilson hit out at “the appalling reaction by some of the London establishment” to news that Theresa May sought an agreement with the DUP to form a new Government.
Ahead of the Belfast parade getting under way yesterday, a suspect package sparked a security alert close to Ardoyne at Glenbryn Parade. It was later declared a hoax.
Today, the focus shifts from the Orange Order to the Royal Black Institution demonstration in Scarva.