Normally contentious parade passes peacefully in north Belfast

Tens of thousands marching in and observing Twelfth of July across Northern Ireland

Orangemen and women make their way past the nationalist Ardoyne area in Belfast. Photograph: Getty Images

Orangemen and women make their way past the nationalist Ardoyne area in Belfast. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The normally contentious Orange Order parade past the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast took place on Wednesday without incident or protest.

As tens of thousands of people gathered for the Twelfth of July celebrations throughout Northern Ireland, one of the tradionally most disputed feeder parades of the day concluded without any trouble.

A few hundred Orangemen and their supporters, marching behind four bands, took less than 10 minutes to pass by the shops as they made their way to Belfast city centre for one of the biggest of the 18 main Orange Order parades being held this Twelfth.

There was an agreement with nationalist residents that there would be no return parade on Wednesday night past the shops.

The mood and tone of the morning parade at Ardoyne was in striking contrast to recent years, where the annual parading dispute led to serious loyalist and nationalist rioting – with several people injured and with the PSNI in the middle trying to maintain order.

Loyalists had established Camp Twaddell close to the shops in 2013 in protest at the Parades Commission ruling that they could not make their return parade past the shops that year.

But following an agreement last September, Orangemen were permitted to make their return parade on the morning of October 1st. This resulted in the dismantling of Camp Twaddell and an agreement that Orangemen could parade in the morning but not on the evening on the Twelfth.

Residents

The agreement was between the Orange Order and the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association (Cara), which is supported by Sinn Féin. The Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective (Garc), which is viewed as sympathetic to dissident republicanism, opposed the deal.

While it was agreed that the Cara group would not protest on Wednesday morning, it was expected that Garc would mount a protest. However, no one from Garc was present.

The police security presence was also low-key. There were some police in public order uniforms, but, generally, they kept themselves out of view in the side-streets.

Instead, the march was mainly policed by PSNI officers in white shirts and short sleeves. The bands played, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and John’s Brown’s Body, as they paraded past the shops.

Local Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the atmosphere was totally transformed compared to recent years. “We need to keep this up, we need to move forward,” he said. “It’s a good day.”

Mr Kelly added that part of the reason the morning parade concluded without incident was due to local communications between nationalists and loyalists in Ardoyne, Twaddell Avenue, Woodvale and the Shankill.

“I want that to continue,” he said. “We have had an agreement which I welcome between the residents and the loyal orders, particularly the Orange Order. Relationships can be built upon now.”

Turning point

Local SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon also welcomed the outcome of the morning parade. “People in the lead-up to today were very anxious as the experiences have been very negative. In the past this has been the scene of some very violent imagery, but today passed off peacefully and, hopefully, this marks a turning point, a new era when it comes to community relations in north Belfast,” she said.

Meanwhile, firefighters dealt with 40 bonfire-related incidents across Northern Ireland overnight, an increase of 21 per cent on the Eleventh Night last year. The fire service in a statement said the Eleventh Night was “exceptionally busy”.

Fire crews also came under attack in Larne and off the Sandy Row in south Belfast as they left the scenes of bonfires. “Thankfully, no firefighters were injured and no damage was caused to the appliance,” the service said in the statement.

Many houses close to bonfires were boarded up for fear of fire or smoke damage. A number of buildings were doused with water by fire crews. One crew prevented a bonfire spreading to an apartment block near Sandy Row which sustained cracked windows due to the heat.

Sinn Féin MLA Mr Kelly criticised the placing of effigies of nationalist politicians such as John Finucane on the bonfires and he was especially critical of the bonfire in east Belfast that featured a black coffin and a picture of the late Martin McGuinness.

He said such “hate crimes” had been reported to the police while adding that he wanted to hear unionist politicians condemn such incidents. “The effigy of Martin McGuinness on a bonfire is entirely unacceptable. This has to stop. Unionist politicians need to take a lead in this,” said Mr Kelly.