Man held after shots fired during Belfast flags protest
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.
Conall McDevitt, SDLP policing spokesman, said those organising the demonstrations on social media must be held fully responsible for the resultant violence.
“I appeal for calm today and over the weekend and ask people taking part in protests to reflect upon the violence, and [to] ask themselves if they want to be associated with that violence and [whether] that is the best way that they feel they can have their voice heard,” he added.
“Nobody is in doubt that some paramilitaries are exploiting these illegal protests to destabilise the situation and ultimately bring violence back on to our streets.”
Last night, Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said violence against the police was a “disgrace” and claimed those behind the violence were playing into the hands of dissident republicans. Mr Robinson said: “The violence and destruction visited on the PSNI is a disgrace, criminally wrong and cannot be justified.
“Those responsible are doing a grave disservice to the cause they claim to espouse and are playing into the hands of those dissident groups who would seek to exploit every opportunity to further their terror aims.
“All right-thinking unionists will want to channel their energies into political activity and to support the cause of finding political solutions to the problems that we face,” Mr Robinson said.
“In Northern Ireland the ballot box has primacy and is the only vehicle for choosing the people’s representatives.”
On Thursday evening, 10 police officers had been injured and two protesters were arrested after rioting broke out. One of them, 23-year-old Christopher Shires, appeared in court yesterday. He was refused bail and remanded in custody.
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.
Additional reporting: Reuters/PA