THOUSANDS OF ORANGEMEN MARCH AS NORTH BELFAST HOLDS ITS BREATH

Orangemen pass Ardoyne shops in north Belfast amid a heavy police presence

Orangemen pass Ardoyne shops in north Belfast amid a heavy police presence

TENS of thousands of Orangemen are taking part in the annual Twelfth of July parades across Northern Ireland on Friday.

But all eyes will be on north Belfast on Friday evening as Orangemen plan to protest over a ruling banning them from returning past the shops in Ardoyne.

A massive security operation will be in place from mid afternoon in north Belfast as police wait on Orangemen returning from the field.

A total of 550 parades are due to take place on Friday.

The outward leg of the Belfast parade passed the contentious Ardoyne shops area peacefully.

However, there have been some angry exchanges and jostling outside the flashpoint at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, also in north Belfast.

One band played the loyalist song ‘The Sash’ while it was stopped outside the church which is in contravention of a ruling by the Parades Commission.

The Parades Commission has ruled that marchers will not be allowed to return along part of the Crumlin Road on Friday evening, but were allowed to walk it, past the Ardoyne shops, in the morning.

The Belfast parade stopped outside the commission’s office in a protest against their north Belfast decision.

County officers tied a banner to a tree outside their door. The county grand master for Belfast, George Chittick, declared ‘No Surrender’.

Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson said the Parades Commission had left the order “no alternative” but to protest over Ardoyne.

Mr Stevenson said that there was no coordinated plan for protests, but all must be peaceful.

He said it was up to people involved at each protest to decide for how long they would protest.

In recent years there has been serious rioting in the nationalist Ardoyne area following the return leg of the parade.

The morning parade was blocked temporarily by police just before it reached the Ardoyne shops.

This was because there were many more supporters accompanying the bands than had been allowed by the Parades Commission ruling, that limited followers of the lodges and band to 100.

After hundreds of supporters withdrew, police allowed the marchers to proceed and the parade passed the Ardoyne shops without incident, shortly after 9 am.

Nationalist residents from the Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective (GARC) held a small protest in the area, amid a heavy police presence.

The day’s biggest parade is at Newtownhamilton in County Armagh.

The Parades Commission ruling on the north Belfast parade was welcomed by nationalist politicians but angered unionists.

The DUP said the Parades Commission decision was rewarding riotous behaviour by dissident republicans after shots were fired during the trouble that followed last year’s march.

The party requested that the Northern Ireland Assembly be recalled to debate the ruling. That debate is arranged for Tuesday 16 July.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland called the Parades Commission’s decision “ludicrous” and damaging to community relations, but Sinn Féin called it a sensible decision.

On Thursday, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she had no power to intervene over the Parades Commission’s decision.

“The only power I have to intervene and override a Parades Commission determination is if I receive an application asking me to do that from the chief constable,” Ms Villiers said.

“He has not sent me such an application and so I don’t in this case have any power over the decision that has been made by the Parades Commission.

“He (the chief constable) certainly made it clear he had no intention of sending me such an application.”

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said 43 of the parades taking place on 12 July – the height of the marching season – were “sensitive”.

He has drafted in an extra 630 police officers from across Britain to support the police in Northern Ireland in the event of rioting.

 

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