North’s prisons will be ‘bulging’ after loyalist violence in Belfast, says PSNI chief constable
Matt Baggott says he expects severe custodial sentences to be handed down to those involved
PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott speaking at PSNI headquarters about the loyalist rioting in Belfast. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire
Northern Ireland’s prisons will be “bulging” as police round up loyalists involved in Friday’s riot in Belfast city centre, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has said.
He said he expected severe custodial sentences to be handed down to those involved in what he described as thuggery and anarchy during a loyalist protest which spilled over into serious street violence in advance of an anti-internment parade.
Some 56 officers were treated for injuries in the violence which scarred the city’s main shopping area.
Buildings and businesses were damaged, cars set alight and pavements ripped up by flag-waving loyalists who turned against police as a republican march made its way from Ardoyne in the north of the city towards west Belfast via the city centre.
Officers fired 26 plastic bullets, deployed water cannon and made eight arrests on the spot, but many more arrests are expected as police identify those involved in the violence.
“I want to, as ever, commend my colleagues for their immense courage last night. I have no doubt whatsoever that they prevented that anarchy from spreading and without that courage, many lives may well have been lost,” Mr Baggott said. The loyalist protesters has “no intention of peaceful protest,” he added.
One of Mr Baggott’s most senior colleagues claimed the protesters had no intention of demonstrating within the law. “There was absolutely no organisation, no coordination and no leadership around any of those protests,” he said. “We saw numbers swell to around 1,200 people and it was evident many of them had violent intent.
“There was no attempt whatsoever that we could see of any organised or coordinated protest activity in line with that which had been notified to the Parades Commission.”
Northern secretary Theresa Villiers described the violence and attacks on police as “shameful”. She said what had happened was a “hugely regrettable step backwards” after Northern Ireland’s recent successes at hosting the G8 summit and World Police and Fire Games which closed on Saturday night.
Mr Baggott said efforts were needed to address the concerns of communities “which feel left behind” in the current political process. He referred to indicators such as low educational attainment and high suicide rates in certain loyalist communities.
Former US special envoy Richard Haass returns to Northern Ireland to chair talks aimed at finding resolutions to parading and other ongoing legacy issues related to the Troubles.
Dr Haass, who was sent to Northern Ireland by President George W Bush, will chair three months of talks and hopes to engage with sections of the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities who feel they are currently without a political voice.