Five police officers injured after flag vote

Tue, Dec 4, 2012, 00:00

Councillors in Belfast last night voted to take the union flag down from Belfast City Hall on all but 15 days of the year.

The vote was 29-21 in favour of the motion to stop flying the flag 365 days a year, an uninterrupted tradition since City Hall opened in 1906.

More than 1,000 protesters had gathered outside City Hall, effectively closing off part of the city centre. Upon hearing the result, a crowd of loyalist protesters stormed the building, breaking through the back gates and shouting “Shame!” and “No Surrender!”

Over the course of the evening five police officers were injured, including two female officers who were hospitalised. Two security staff of Belfast city hall were also injured, along with a press photographer.

One of the security guards was cut by broken glass as the crowd attempted to gain entry to the council chamber.

The PSNI said the crowds dispersed from the City Hall and Newtownards Road areas around 10pmbut that police remained late into the night in the Albertbridge Road area while crowds dispersed after disorder in the area.

The vote brings City Hall in line with the policy at Stormont, where the flag is only hoisted on certain, prearranged days, such as the queen’s birthday.

Just over a week ago, the policy and resources committee voted 11-9 in favour of removing the flag from City Hall altogether, but that decision had to be ratified by the full council.

The Alliance Party – which holds the balance of power – proposed the compromise motion to fly the flag on selected days.

Now that the motion has been passed, it opens the door for changes to flag policy at two other landmark Belfast City Council buildings where the union flag flies every day of the year: the Ulster Hall and Duncrue complex.

There were terse exchanges in the council chamber before the vote, with unionist politicians accusing the SDLP and Sinn Féin of “stirring up tensions”. Nationalist politicians countered that it was time for a more inclusive environment, to reflect changed times – and changed demographics.

The UUP and the DUP joined forces to deliver 40,000 pamphlets which claimed Alliance had sided with nationalists. The leaflets urged voters to phone the Alliance party offices. Alliance reacted angrily, saying office staff had been inundated with abusive calls.