By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Thousands of Orange Order members will take to the streets across Northern Ireland later to mark the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.
This year’s Twelfth of July parades will be smaller than usual and locally based due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The normal 18 main events have been replaced by more than 100 local parades.
The Order said organising smaller parades was the best way to ensure the demonstrations went ahead.
The Twelfth parades mark the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne, north of Dublin, in 1690 — a triumph that secured a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has called on everyone planning to attend a parade to respect the Covid-19 guidelines.
Spectators are advised to choose one parade to attend, avoid standing in crowds or walking alongside the parade and to wear face coverings when appropriate.
Usually, parade participants congregate at fields where they hear speeches and prayers delivered by senior Orangemen, but that will not be possible this year.
Last year’s parades were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings.
On Sunday night, more than 160 bonfires were lit as traditional Eleventh Night celebrations, which precede the Twelfth parades, got under way.
These included the contentious bonfire at Adam Street in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area of north Belfast, which is adjacent to the nationalist New Lodge area.
The bonfire had attracted controversy as nationalist and republican politicians had claimed that the homes of New Lodge residents had come under attack from bonfire builders.
But unionist politicians rejected this, stating the bonfire was a legitimate expression of their culture, and accused nationalist political leaders of raising tensions.
Speaking on Sunday, Sinn Féin’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said all political leaders needed to work to ensure that tensions did not boil over in the coming days.
She said: “I hope it is a peaceful weekend, I hope it is a calm weekend. All of us in political leadership have a duty to try to ensure that is the case.
“I would call on everyone, enjoy your celebrations, do what it is that you do to enjoy your culture but there is no room for attacking people’s homes.
“I just hope we have a weekend that we are not looking at the scenes we witnessed a number of weeks ago when we saw tensions in interface areas, none of us want to see that.
“My message is clear, stay home, don’t be involved in street disorder, that is not where anybody should be.”