Police car burned in flag trouble
Loyalists tried to kill a police officer when they set fire to his patrol car in Belfast tonight.
The new outbreak of trouble in east and south Belfast followed unanimous condemnation by the Northern Assembly of the violence in Northern Ireland because of the row over flying the British union flag over Belfast City Hall.
A gang of 15 men tossed a petrol bomb into the unmarked vehicle after surrounding and smashing it while the officer was still inside. It happened outside the offices of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long who has been warned her life is under threat.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said the officer was lucky to escape with his life outside the MP’s office on the Newtownards Road. They were treating the attack as attempted murder.
There were a number of other protests tonight in regional areas of Northern Ireland, including Limavady, Co Derry, and Ballycastle, Co Antrim, which passed off without any violence.
Loyalists also blocked off some of south Belfast’s main arterial routes and traffic was delayed on a number of roads.
Earlier today a motion tabled by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the trouble, sympathised with all those attacked, injured and threatened, and insisted that “any further protests be peaceful, orderly and organised in accordance with the law”
The debate was tightly whipped and carefully coordinated to try to ensure the Assembly could present a united front in the face of the continuing loyalist and unionist protests against the decision that the union flag only fly on about 17 designated days per year over City Hall rather all year round as heretofore.
While everyone supported the motion some speakers qualified their remarks. The Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said that “culture is Sinn Fein’s new theatre of war” and that the Belfast Agreement was “designed to trundle us out of the United Kingdom and to ease and infuse us into a united Ireland”.
Former Ulster Unionist Party member and now UK Independence Party MLA David McNarry while supporting the motion nonetheless complained that it did not reflect the anger of the unionist community over Belfast City Council’s decision on the union flag.
At one stage in the debate Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson - whose office in Carrickfergus was attacked - asked the First Minister was it wise to previously ask for the protests to be suspended rather than ended completely. “Nobody but a tyrant would suggest there should be an end to peaceful protests in the country,” said Mr Robinson.
David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party, some of whose members were targeted as a result of the flag decision, said last week was “a horrific and frightening experience”.
“The sense that some people in this house had more understanding for those targeting the houses and premises of my friends and colleagues was palpable,” he added.
“The challenge is to rise above the win-loss politics of ‘them’ versus ‘us’ to find a common, shared approach to flags in which we are all winners. In our view, the flags decision of Belfast City Council, like that of other councils, is respectful of national sovereignty and of the variety of allegiances that make up our community,” added Mr Ford.