PSNI chief says attacks on officers 'attempted murder'
Attacks on police officers during clashes which flared in North Belfast last night after rival parades have been described by the PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott as "attempted murder".
The chairman of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission today defended the decision to allow to loyalist and republican parades to go ahead within two hours of each other. They culminated with serious public disorder and dissident republican gunmen opening fire on police.
All sides, including the Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, hit out at the ruling.
More than 20 police officers were injured during the trouble which flared in the nationalist Ardoyne district. None of the injuries are thought to be serious.
Petrol bombs and bricks were thrown and up to 10 shots fired. Police used water cannon in a bid to disperse the crowds of republicans and at one stage six baton rounds were fired.
Four men aged between 18 and 41 have been charged in connection with the disturbances. They are due to appear before Belfast Magistrates' Court tomorrow.
"Anarchy took place last night which provided cover for the more sinister elements to come out and engage in attempted murder," Mr Baggott told a news conference.
"Those responsible for rioting, wherever they came from, will be subject to a prolonged police investigation and be brought before the courts. There is no excuse for rioting and violence."
Politicians on all sides, including Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson, had criticised Parades Commission decisions which meant the Orangemen having to return early from the main Twelfth of July rally in the city - and allowing a parade by local residents to go ahead in the same place two hours later. Dissident republicans, many of them from outside the area, were among the crowds.
The Commission was established to adjudicate on contentious marches, and even though there has been major trouble at this particular Catholic/Protestant flashpoint every year for over a decade, the chairman Peter Osborne said given the circumstances, the rulings were correct.
He also hit out at people whom he claimed stood on the sidelines criticising their work. The language and comments in the days leading up to the parades had heightened tensions and were not helpful.
Mr Osborne told BBC Radio Ulster: “It is complete and utter nonsense to blame the Parades Commission for the violence last night. There has been violence in this location for many, many years now.”
He added: “It is time for politicians to take ownership of contentious parades... that’s the way forward.”
The Commission chairman was backed by the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson.
He said: “The Parades Commission was lawfully constituted by Parliament in 1998 in order to take decisions over
parades out of the hands of the police and politicians.
“Should local politicians agree to alternative arrangements, and take responsibility for parading as was envisaged in the 2010 Hillsborough Castle Agreement, the Government will support them.
“In the meantime we shall stand by the independent Parades Commission as the sole legal authority in Northern Ireland to make determinations on parading.”
There was minor trouble in Derry when nationalist youths attacked police with petrol bombs, but all the other Orange Order demonstrations across Northern Ireland yesterday passed off without any major incidents.