Northern Ireland marching season: One man stabbed in clashes before Orange Order parades

In recent years when a parade was permitted to pass Ardoyne, republicans have rioted. When it was restricted last year, loyalists were involved in disorder

One man was stabbed as rival sectarian gangs clashed in Northern Ireland in the early hours yesterday, police said. Eight people were arrested for public order offences after what police described as a "small number of disturbances in North and West Belfast" before the annual Twelfth of July parades, when people march to mark the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Across Northern Ireland, tens of thousands of Orangemen and women took part in celebrations. Police reported no further incidents as they passed known sectarian flashpoints.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement that the stabbing took place in an earlier clash between loyalist and republican gangs in the Ormeau Bridge area of South Belfast: "The two groups were separated at approximately 3.30am. Police stayed in the area for several more hours to ensure that the area remained calm."

The stabbed man was taken to hospital; his injuries were "not believed to be life-threatening", the police added. There were also two other stabbings in the city in the early hours of yesterday morning although police said the motive for those was unclear.

Anna Lo, an Alliance Party MLA, said: "I am shocked that this sectarian fight has taken place in South Belfast. Those who took part should be ashamed of themselves." Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr, however, said he was "encouraged by the responsible behaviour of the vast majority of people involved".

With the bill for policing parades and flag disputes over the past 20 months at around £55m, there is a significant effort to avoid further trouble.

In recent years when an Orange Order parade was permitted to pass Ardoyne, republicans have rioted. When it was restricted last year, loyalists were involved in disorder. Almost 700 people were charged or reported to prosecutors last year in relation to parade or protest-related disorder. While not all cases have progressed through the system, 561 people have been convicted to date and many have ended up in prison with sentences of up to five years.