- PSNI report no arrests but are investigating bonfire sites where sectarian effigies and flags allegedly set alight overnight
Several hundred Orangemen, flute bands and loyalist supporters filed past the republican Ardoyne district in north Belfast without any protests from Catholic residents.
The loyalists will not march back via the same route as part of a deal sealed by political representatives and community leaders on both sides of the sectarian divide.
Significantly, there were no hardline dissident republicans at the Ardoyne shops as the Orange Order parade went by.
There was heavy security around the area, with up to a dozen armoured police Land Rovers as well as two bomb disposal units on the Ardoyne Road. Police later said there had been no incidents and no arrests.
Afterwards, a Catholic priest who has been part of the inter-community negotiations in the north of the city over the past few years said he was delighted it had been a peaceful day at Ardoyne.
In recent years, the sectarian faultline has been the scene of rioting and even gun attacks on police officers keeping both sides apart.
But Fr Gary Donegan said the deal between the two communities augured well for the future.
“There were a bigger number of bands and supporters than I would have expected, but at the same time it passed by with little response. But hopefully, now we can manage the rest of the day and the numbers out here stay down.”
|News that the parade had passed without incident was welcomed and hailed as a ‘turning point’.|
“Every step I would count as a success. Obviously, there are always going to be issues about parading because it’s unique in Ardoyne as there are people who were killed within the vicinity where the actual parades take place. So there is obviously hypersensitivity about that.
“What you are actually calling for is common sense right along the line because at the moment, with Brexit and all these other issues, there are bigger fish to fry for people in areas like this of social deprivation.”
Gerry Kelly, a Sinn Féin north Belfast assembly member, welcomed the fact the parade had passed off without protests or disorder.
Following the Orange Order parade passing into the loyalist Upper Shankill area, Kelly said that “we are in a better place”, thanks to the inter-communal agreement.
“We had an agreement here which I welcomed between the residents and the loyal orders … Anybody who has been following this over the last few years will realise that the atmosphere is entirely different. Relationships can be built upon that and that is one of the most important things to say - relationships not among politicians, but among people in the wider Ardoyne area.”
However, Kelly referred to a number of loyalist bonfires lit at midnight that contained Sinn Féin election posters, Irish tricolours and on one, a picture of the late Martin McGuinness inside a mocked-up coffin.
“The bonfire issue has to be dealt with. If we are told that these are going to be family events then someone needs to tell all of the people how they are,” he said.
|People watch a bonfire in the Sandy Row area ignite after it is lit by petrol bombs during the 12 July celebrations.|
As thousands of Orangemen and their supporters marched on the streets and roads on Wednesday morning for the annual 12 July parade, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was looking at a number of bonfire sites where nationalists had claimed offensive, sectarian imagery was on display.
Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin’s national chairman and negotiator during the recent deadlocked talks with the Democratic Unionists aimed at restoring power sharing, challenged unionist politicians to condemn the “hatemongers” who burned the McGuinness effigy along with Irish tricolour flags and his party’s election posters.
Other material on a bonfire site in County Armagh included a racist banner mocking the black Glasgow Celtic footballer Scott Sinclair.
A PSNI spokesman said: “We take hate crime very seriously and actively investigate all incidents reported to us.”
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland fire and rescue service said there had been more than a 20% increase in the number of callouts overnight at bonfires across the region.
Firefighters responded to 40 fires in loyalist districts and, in one case, had to douse homes with water that were in danger of catching fire close to a bonfire in east Belfast.