Thousands take to the streets as Twelfth of July parades pass off peacefully

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Thousands of Orange Order members have taken to the streets across Northern Ireland to mark the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.

This year’s Twelfth of July parades were smaller than usual and locally based due to public health concerns.

Organisers stuck to plans to have parades of no more than 500 people, even though the limit on public gatherings imposed due to Covid-19 has been removed.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson hailed events as a “great success”.

As well as the reduced size of the parades, there were fewer spectators lining the roads this year.

Mr Stevenson said it had been “no easy task” for districts to organise.

But he said districts stepped up and delivered events which celebrated the anniversary of King William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne but also “put the best interests of the wider community to the fore in relation to Covid-19”.

He said they hoped to return to traditional Twelfth demonstrations in 2022.

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
Amelia, Anna and Faith Newell in Kilkeel (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson marched with the Ballinran Orange Lodge in Kilkeel, Co Down.

He told the PA news agency: “This is the community in which I grew up, my family still live here and it is great to come back and to meet people that I haven’t met up with in years.

“It is a very much scaled-down parade of what it would normally be but it is good to see some parading resuming on the Twelfth. I think people are just glad to have a day out.”

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP (centre) marching as a member of Ballinran Orange Lodge (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Parades Commission, which rules on contentious gatherings in Northern Ireland, had imposed conditions on a number of marches.

Up to 2,000 police officers were on duty throughout the day, but no trouble was reported.

There was a significant police presence for parades in Belfast on Monday through the Ardoyne area and past St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Donegall Street.

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
Orangemen march past St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

“I would like to thank and acknowledge all of the people who helped make this a safe and enjoyable day for many.

“We will be continuing our duties throughout the night to keep our communities safe.”

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
The Orange Order parade in Hillsborough, Co Down (Niall Carson/PA)

Traditionally, parade participants congregate at fields where they hear speeches and prayers delivered by senior Orangemen before a return march, but that did not happen this year.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland had called on everyone attending a parade to respect Covid-19 guidelines.

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
Former DUP councillor Diane Forsythe (right) and her children watch as members of Ballinran Orange Lodge march through Kilkeel (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Twelfth parades were preceded by the traditional burning of Eleventh Night bonfires, which this year took place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokesman said: “Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has dealt with a significant increase in emergency calls and mobilisations to bonfire-related incidents over July 9, 10 and 11.

Battle of the Boyne bonfires
The huge bonfire in Craigyhill, Larne (Niall Carson/PA)

A 17-year-old boy is in a critical condition after he suffered burns to his face and body at a bonfire in Silverstream Crescent, north Belfast.

Sir Jeffrey condemned the burning of Irish tricolour flags on some bonfires.

He said: “I take a very clear view that if we want to have people respecting our culture and our traditions then we need to show respect to others. I don’t want to see election posters, flags and effigies burnt on bonfires. I think we need to move beyond that.”

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