Attack on police was 'attempted murder'
THE PSNI is treating as attempted murder an attack by a masked 15-member loyalist gang on a police patrol operating close to the office of Alliance MP for East Belfast Naomi Long last night.
The attack happened as further violence and protests flared in different parts of Belfast last night over Belfast City Council’s decision to reduce the number of days the British union flag flies over City Hall from 365 days to 15 designated days.
The most serious incident was on the Upper Newtownards Road close to the office of Ms Long who has received murder threats from loyalists because of Alliance’s support for the motion limiting the flying of the union flag.
Shortly after 7.30pm the patrol car was attacked, windows were smashed and a petrol bomb thrown into the vehicle while an officer was inside. Police said the “officer was lucky to escape without injury”.
“This was a planned attempt to kill a police officer which also put the lives of the public in danger,” said Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton. “I am urgently appealing to those involved in ongoing protests to listen to their political leaders and step back from the protest activity before someone is seriously injured or killed.”
Police were also attacked with petrol bombs, bricks, bottles and fireworks in the loyalist Village area of south Belfast last night. Attempts were made to erect burning barricades across roads while police responded with water cannon.
The passing of a Northern Assembly motion unanimously condemning the violence, threats and intimidation of recent days did not have any impact on the demonstrators.
The Assembly motion tabled by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the past week of trouble, sympathised with all those attacked, injured and threatened, and insisted that “any further protests be peaceful, orderly and organised in accordance with the law”.
The debate was tightly whipped and carefully co-ordinated to try to ensure the Assembly could present a united front in the face of the continuing loyalist and unionist protests against the flag decision.
While everyone supported the motion the atmosphere in the chamber was charged and some speakers qualified their remarks. Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said that “culture is Sinn Féin’s new theatre of war” and the Belfast Agreement was “designed to trundle us out of the United Kingdom and to ease and infuse us into a united Ireland”.
Former Ulster Unionist Party member and now UK Independence Party MLA David McNarry, while supporting the motion, complained it did not reflect the anger of the unionist community over Belfast City Council’s decision.
At one stage in the debate Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, whose office in Carrickfergus was attacked, asked the First Minister was it wise to ask for the protests to be suspended rather than ended completely. “Nobody but a tyrant would suggest there should be an end to peaceful protests in the country,” said Mr Robinson.
David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party, some of whose members were targeted as a result of the flag decision, said last week was “a horrific and frightening experience”.
“The sense that some people in this house had more understanding for those targeting the houses and premises of my friends and colleagues was palpable,” he added. “The challenge is to rise above the win-loss politics of ‘them versus us’ to find a common, shared approach to flags in which we are all winners. In our view, the flags decision of Belfast City Council, like that of other councils, is respectful of national sovereignty and of the variety of allegiances that make up our community,” added Mr Ford.
Opening the debate, Mr McGuinness said there was a responsibility on politicians to “dampen tensions that have been ignited” and ensure there was no return to such violence. “We are not going back and that is the message that must be heard loud and clear from this Assembly today.”