With the Twelfth of July -- the height of the marching season -- falling this year on a Sunday, annual marches by the Protestant Orange Order will take place instead this Monday.
Loyalists bonfires -- which traditionally take place on the Eleventh night, the eve of ‘the Twelfth’ -- are this year set to take place over two nights, with loyalists marking both days.
Attacks on Catholics have risen significantly in recent weeks as tensions mount over the triumphalist displays, a number of which provocatively take place in or near nationalist communities.
The marches trumpet the victory of the Dutch King William of Orange over the forces of the Catholic King James in 1690 and are normally accompanied by so-called ‘kick the pope’ bands and paramilitary flag-waving loyalist supporters.
The ‘Eleventh night’ bonfires are often hubs of drunken sectarian violence, where Irish tricolour flags and Catholics are burned in effigy.
This year, one illegal bonfire has been sited next to the entrance of one of Ireland’s biggest hospitals. Wooden pallets are still being added to the 50ft-high bonfire on the Donegall Road in Belfast, just yards from the City Hospital where the north’s regional cancer centre is based.
Loyalists say the bonfire, one of three in the area, will be “twice as high” by the weekend, and they have been assured the PSNI police will not intervene.
Ahead of the weekend’s events, gaffiti has been daubed on the walls of a popular Belfast park warning Catholics to stay out.
The writing said “Warning all taigs: use your own park” and “ATAT” (“All taigs are targets”).
The graffiti appeared on a wall at Belfast City Council-run Grove Playing Fields and on a nearby wall, close to Alexandra Park in north Belfast.
At this weekend every year, levels of unionist intimidation reach a climax and many northern nationalists choose to head south.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Paul Butler accused loyalists of turning the politically mixed village of Stoneyford “into a shrine to the Union Jack” and other loyalist bunting and regalia in the run up the 12th.
More ominously, there has been a further escalation in the dispute over the policing and marshalling of sectarian parades in Belfast.
A loyalist group warned this week that it will not steward a controversial Twelfth parade at a notorious north Belfast flashpoint.
Republicans in the Ardoyne area have expressed anger over the continuing coat-trailing marches through the area. Sinn Féin marshals, including former political prisoners, have taken on an increased security function to help force the anti-Catholic parades through republican areas.
Despite a small amount of missiles being thrown, the marshals have so far succeeded in avoiding serious violence. However, Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness recently warned that the situation could not continue indefinitely.
Local loyalist representative Tommy Cheevers demanded full PSNI riot-squads for the parade when it passes Ardoyne on Monday night.
“Gerry Kelly claimed we were attacked by a small number of dissidents but we believe mainstream republicans are hiding behind this cloak of convenience,” Mr Cheevers said.
“We are not going to be the whipping boys for various republicans groups trying to outdo each other.”
In recent years loyalist supporters have been bussed past the flashpoint interface.
However, Mr Cheevers said loyalists would not board any buses on Monday evening and intended marching through Ardoyne, once the main parade had passed.
Ardoyne Parades Dialogue Group spokesman Pat McLarnon described the decision to withdraw loyalist parade stewards as a “recipe for disaster”.
“Loyalist supporters, many of them heavily drunk, have been the main source of the problem in recent years,” he said.
“They’ve been led by well known loyalist paramilitaries and acted in a provocative and intimidating manner, taunting residents with UDA and UVF flags.
“Bussing them through the area was the sensible and safest option.
“We’re concerned they are now refusing to use buses and seem intent on some kind of stand-off unless they’re allowed some kind of coat-trailing exercise up the Crumlin Road.”
The annual Drumcree parade in Portadown passed off quietly last Sunday, with Orangemen again holding a token protest against the rerouting of their parade from the nationalist Garvaghy Road.
The defusing of the annual stand-offs over the marches from Drumcree church has been hailed as a unique triumph for the Parades Commission, which adjudicates on parade routes across the North.
Last Sunday, marchers stopped at a police barrier a short distance from Drumcree church as they have every year since 1998.
Despite widespread conflagrations over Drumcree in the past, community relations in the north Armagh town have improved in recent years. However, the Orange Order continues to demand to parade down the Garvaghy Road.
The Orange Order along with the Parades Commission and DUP leader Peter Robinson have said they will strive for an alternative resolution by next year.
Mr Robinson met with Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition today [Friday] following a meeting with representatives of Portadown Orangemen took place two weeks ago.
Mr Mac Cionnaith said the DUP leader appeared open-minded over efforts to resolve the Drumcree impasse.
“This is the first occasion that representatives from our community have actually met with the senior figure from within the DUP at any stage over the last 14, 15 or 16 years.
“He appeared very open-minded to what we were saying, understood the concerns of our community as well. I think he demonstrated that he is not going to act as a proxy on behalf of the Orange Order.”
He accepted the suggestion that, as far as his Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition was concerned, the matter was solved and added that it was the responsibility of the Parades Commission.