Loyalist paramilitaries accused over violence
Loyalist paramilitaries have “hijacked” protests over the flying of the British flag at Belfast’s City Hall and have “turned their guns on the police”, the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland has said.
Terry Spence made his comments after police were attacked for a third night running in Belfast, with officers coming under gunfire as loyalist crowds thew petrol bombs, fireworks and petrol bombs.
A 38-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, while two others were also detained amid ongoing street disturbances. Police officers in east Belfast came under sustained attack from a mob of around 100 loyalists.
Meanwhile, five men and a boy aged 16 accused of riot, including an alleged ringleader and a petrol bomber, were remanded in custody during a special sitting of Belfast Magistrates Court today.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 this morning, Mr Spence said there was “no doubt” that the situation “has been exploited by the paramilitary grouping known as the Ulster Volunteer Force”.
Mr Spence said it was “very clear” that leading members of the UVF are “organising and orchestrating this violence against police officers who are out there trying to uphold the law and prevent anarchy on our streets”.
“Since these protests began 65 police officers have been injured, some of those officers have been hospitalised, and really this is a very, very difficult time for the police service of Northern Ireland.
“Certainly I think it is the most challenging period that we have had in the last decade,” Mr Spence said.
A police spokesman said officers dealt with violence in the Newtownards Road, Albertbridge Road and Castlereagh Street and Templemore Avenue areas of the city last night, using water cannon and firing three AEP rounds (rubber and plastic rounds).
One officer was injured and a number of arrests were made, the PSNI said.
More than 1,000 demonstrators marched on Belfast’s City Hall yesterday, but despite tense scenes and some scuffles the rally passed off without major incident. There was a heavy police presence, including officers in riot gear with dogs stationed within the historic civic building itself and on surrounding side streets.
But as the flag-waving crowds dispersed, ugly scenes flared again — for the third night in a row — on the Newtownards Road in the traditionally unionist east of the city. A PSNI spokesman said they were investigating reports from their own officers that a number of shots were fired at police lines.
Conall McDevitt, policing spokesman for the nationalist SDLP, said the firing of shots at police officers ended any claim to legitimacy by protest organisers.
“Whatever grievance some people may have had, it is totally lost when they allow people to use these protests as cover for attempted murder,” said the South Belfast MLA.