BELFAST (Reuters) -Annual marches by thousands of members of Northern Ireland’s Orange Order took place across Northern Ireland on Monday without incident, police said, allaying concerns that anger at post-Brexit trade barriers might fuel street violence.
The July 12 parades have often been the spark for violence – by both supporters and opponents – even after a 1998 peace deal largely ended three decades of conflict between Catholic nationalists aspiring to unification with Ireland and Protestant unionists seeking to retain the status quo.
The 35,000-member Protestant organisation held 500 smaller, local parades rather than the usual 18 large gathering to take account of COVID-19 restrictions and its chief executive told Reuters on Friday that he did not sense any appetite to turn parades violent or into Brexit protests.
“I am pleased that today has passed without incident,” Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said in a statement, adding that the policing operation would continue “throughout the night”.
Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein said in a statement that people taking part in a parade in West Belfast had antagonised local residents by signing sectarian songs but it did not report any violence.
Trade checks were introduced by the Northern Ireland Protocol of Britain’s European Union divorce treaty on some goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland due to its open border with the EU via member state Ireland. Anger at the restrictions helped fuel more than a week of riots earlier this year.
The July 12 parades, which celebrate the 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne by Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James of England and Scotland, finished earlier than usual.
The lighting of bonfires on the eve of the July 12 holiday, some of which were draped in Irish flags, passed off peacefully over the weekend, although one male was hospitalised with serious burn injuries, police said.
(Reporting by Ian Graham, Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Catherine Evans)