Loyalist paramilitaries accused over violence
“There is only one response possible — and that’s a firm policing response against everyone involved in illegal protests and anyone seeking to organise or encourage illegal or violent demonstrations.”
Mr McDevitt urged unionist leaders to publicly reject the protests “before someone is killed or seriously injured”.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore condemned the latest attacks. “These attacks over the past three days are not the mark of legitimate protest but are the actions of a small group who want to bring Northern Ireland back to a darker past,” he said.
Mr Gilmore said the Government fully supports the efforts of and will remain in close contact with elected leaders in Northern Ireland to resolve the flags issue.
A police spokesman said officers in east Belfast had to deal with "serious public disorder" in the Castlereagh Street and Templemore Avenue areas on Friday night when they came under sustained attack from crowds of up to 300 people. Missiles including fireworks, bricks and ball bearings were thrown. Police said over 30 petrol bombs were also thrown at officers.
It was reported that three attempted vehicle hijackings were made in the Beersbridge Road area, and that 14 arrests were made there. Water cannon was brought in but not used.
Police said three people were arrested when they cleared a protest in the Robbs Road area of Dundonald, close to the Ulster Hospital, at approximately 6pm on Friday. Violence also broke out in the O’Neill Road area of Newtownabbey and lasted for several hours. Missiles including bottles and bricks were thrown for a time, resulting in one police officer being injured.
Police received reports of an attempted bus hijack in the area. A commercial premises on the O’Neill Road was broken into by several masked men who damaged the property and stole a sum of money. One person was arrested.
There have been violent protests in Belfast since early December when Alliance members on Belfast City Council voted with Sinn Féin and the SDLP to restrict the number of days on which the British union flag flies over City Hall to 15 from 365. A number of elected representatives have also received death threats, and Alliance Party offices have been burned by arsonists in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim.
Loyalist protesters, meanwhile, are planning to bring their union flag protest to Leinster House and ask for the Tricolour to be lowered next week.
An estimated 150 loyalists are expected to travel to the Dáil as part of a group organised by Willie Frazer, who was behind the Love Ulster parade in Dublin in 2006.