Efforts fail to broker end to flag dispute
The ongoing violent protests that took place in Belfast over the weekend are expected to continue. Efforts to broker an end to the protests have continued but little progress has been made.
Eight people were arrested during rioting in east Belfast on Saturday. The violence marked the third consecutive night of trouble in the area, following ongoing protests over restrictions on the flying of the union flag over City Hall.
Water cannon was used after PSNI officers came under attack from more than 100 people throwing petrol bombs, fireworks and other missiles. A number of vehicles were burnt out. Police said they fired plastic bullets three times.
Earlier that day, a man (38) was held on suspicion of attempted murder after shots were reportedly fired at police.
Police superintendent Paula Hillman said officers were subjected to “sustained, serious violence”. She said: “They are being attacked with petrol bombs, masonry and bricks. Lasers are also being used against police officers and those in the police helicopter.”
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott commended “the tireless courage” of police officers. He added: “You may be assured there will be sufficient resources in the event of more disorder for however long is necessary.”
Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said he had no doubt that paramilitaries had been involved in the violence.
“This is a very sinister development and quite clearly the police came under fire this afternoon from a gunman,” he said.
“What it clearly does demonstrate is that there has been paramilitary involvement in these attacks on police and it has been orchestrated, in the case of east Belfast, by the UVF.”
However, Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is linked to the UVF, denied the group was involved in the violence.
A total of 13 people appeared at a special sitting of the city’s Magistrate’s Court, held on Saturday night, charged with rioting over the previous 48 hours. Another five, also charged in relation to street violence, appeared at a second special sitting of the court yesterday.
Nineteen police officers have been injured since Thursday and 27 people arrested. Yesterday afternoon, church and political leaders met in east Belfast to discuss plans for bringing the violence to an end.
Further protests are expected to take place in Belfast in the coming days, many of which are due to be held outside the constituency office of the Alliance MP for East Belfast, Naomi Long. The Alliance party has been the focus of loyalist anger after its councillors brokered the compromise deal which led to the union flag only being flown on designated days.
Meanwhile, the Belfast home of SDLP councillor Claire Hanna has been attacked. Ms Hanna, who chairs the East Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership, was out with her husband and infant daughter when the attack took place.