Tensions rise ahead of Orange Order parades

PSNI will have 1,500 officers policing main and feeder parades in Belfast

The huge loyalist “Eleventh Night” bonfire that is threatening homes in Chobham Street in east Belfast.

The huge loyalist “Eleventh Night” bonfire that is threatening homes in Chobham Street in east Belfast.

 

The PSNI will have 1,500 officers specifically assigned in Belfast to try to ensure that Orange Order parades pass off peacefully on Monday, senior officers have said.

In all, 3,000 officers will be policing the 18 Orange Order and one Independent Orange Order parades that take place throughout Northern Ireland on Monday with the biggest PSNI presence at three flashpoints in north Belfast, east Belfast and close to the city centre.

With the Twelfth of July falling on Sunday, the annual Orange celebrations, in line with the institution’s sabbatarian traditional, are being held on Monday.

Senior police sources said “tensions are high within the PUL (Protestant unionist loyalist) community” and that they are concerned about how Monday will unfold.

As usual, the biggest focus is on the return parade of three north Belfast Orange lodges on Monday night. The lodges, as happened in the past two years, have again been banned by the Parades Commission from returning along the Crumlin Road at the Ardoyne shops, at the interface between the Catholic and Protestant communities in north Belfast.

Instead, as happened in the past two years, the commission has determined they cannot go beyond the junction of Woodvale Parade and Woodvale Road, which is about 300 metres from the Ardoyne shops.

The return parade last year passed off peacefully after the Orange Order, with the support of senior loyalists linked to the UVF and UDA in north Belfast, carefully marshalled the parade. There was serious violence at the police lines on the Woodvale Road in 2013, but, as a result of the heavy Orange and loyalist stewarding, those parading and protesting dispersed peacefully last year.

That peaceful parade was predicated on an Orange Order and loyalist expectation that the dispute over the return parade by the Ardoyne shops would be resolved by this Twelfth. However, as that failed to happen, there is now concern among senior PSNI commanders that the same level of stewarding won’t be provided this year.

Loyalists have been protesting nightly in the area since the summer of 2013 when the return parade was banned, with those demonstrations centred on the Camp Twaddell protest site at the top of Twaddell Avenue close to the Ardoyne shops. Policing those protests have cost £17 million, police said on Friday.

Police also have a concern that dissident republican paramilitaries could try to stage attacks over the Twelfth period. In the past two years, dissidents exploited the Camp Twaddell protests to mount five attacks on police officers. No officer was killed in those incidents.

There is also particular police concern about two other parades, at Donegall Street beside St Patrick’s Church in central Belfast and on the Newtownards Road close to the Short Strand nationalist enclave, which have been the scenes of trouble in recent years.

Senior PSNI sources have appealed for calm. One commander urged the Orange Order to provide the same level of marshalling as was present last year to try to ensure Monday concludes peacefully.

The Orange Order in a statement on Friday called for a peaceful Twelfth period, despite what it termed republican intolerance and provocation. “Anyone who responds with violence to such provocation only does a disservice to our cause and undermines all that we stand for,” it said.

As the pre-Twelfth “Eleventh Night” bonfires were being lit in different parts of Northern Ireland over this weekend, residents beside one of the bonfires at Chobham Street in east Belfast were leaving their homes because of safety concerns. The bonfire is one of the largest seen in recent years, which resulted in the North’s fire service warning residents of the dangers.

The land is owned by the North’s Department of Regional Development, whose employees have helped residents board up threatened properties.

Alliance Assembly member Chris Lyttle said “it is unacceptable in 2015 that a government department has allowed this bonfire to progress to the stage where residents are living in fear for the safety of their homes”.