Orangemen to avoid Twelfth of July standoff with police in north Belfast

Guarded hope that contentious parade will pass off relatively peacefully

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 02:25

The Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Orange Order have expressed guarded hope that this evening’s contentious parade in north Belfast will conclude relatively peacefully. There is also qualified optimism that overall the Twelfth of July will be relatively trouble-free.

A decision announced by the order yesterday that it will not engage in a standoff with the PSNI at the police lines halting the return Orange parade on the top of Woodvale Road in north Belfast this evening has helped defuse some of the tensions around the Twelfth.

The PSNI nonetheless is planning a major security operation, particularly in north Belfast, so that it can be prepared for most eventualities.

The new chief constable, George Hamilton, is deploying 3,500 officers to police the Twelfth with 1,100 of them tasked to operate in north Belfast. As part of that number police will have 36 tactical support groups (TSGs) operating in north Belfast to deal with any trouble that might flare during this evening’s return parade which will be halted by police lines at the top of Woodvale Road. These TSGs each comprise 25 officers experienced in riot control.

Flashpoint

Police sources said yesterday that the intelligence was that loyalist paramilitaries were not agitating to cause trouble at the flashpoint on Woodvale Road. “The word is that there is no loyalist paramilitary appetite for disorder,” said a senior source.

But with some 35,000 Orangemen parading at 17 main parades and scores of feeder parades today, and with many thousands of loyalist bands members participating and thousands more spectating, police are conscious that trouble could arise at unpredictable locations.

Moreover, as part of the protests against the Parades Commission decision barring Orangemen from parading past the Ardoyne shops all 17 parades will be halted for six minutes. This, said the order, is “the length of time it takes the Ligoniel parade to walk past the Crumlin Road”.

In addition up to 50 protests will be held tomorrow evening throughout the North but not in “contentious areas”, according to the order.

Notwithstanding these protests and based on local intelligence and commitments from the Orange Order senior police officers said they were “guardedly optimistic” today would pass off comparatively peacefully.

Blocked

There was severe loyalist violence in north Belfast on the Twelfth night last year and several days of disorder thereafter after Orangemen were blocked at the top of Woodvale Road from parading on past the Ardoyne shops.

This year the three Ligoniel returning Orange lodges will parade close to the police lines at the top of Woodvale Road, accompanied by bands. They will stop at a line of marshals where the bands will play music, said Belfast deputy grand master Spencer Beattie.

A short statement will be read at the scene after which the lodges and the bands will parade back to the west Belfast Orange hall on the Shankill and “disperse”, said Mr Beattie. He referred to the “Camp Twaddell” Orange/ loyalist protest site that has been in place in north Belfast since last year. He said this protest had been peaceful while warning that today “one stone thrown would undermine the commitment and dedication of the many thousand who have supported our cause”.

“I would repeat again that our response to republican agitation and the threat of violence must be lawful and peaceful, if anyone is intent on causing trouble you will not be welcome at any of our protests,” he added.