PSNI warning over Belfast rioting
Northern Ireland cannot afford a repeat of the sectarian violence that left almost 50 police officers injured after riots in north Belfast, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has warned.
Water cannon was deployed when the officers were attacked with fireworks, petrol bombs and masonry in disturbances they said initially involved several hundred loyalists. Nationalists were also involved in the clashes which surrounded a republican march, but which were close to the scene of recent disorder around a loyalist parade.
Loyalists and republicans attacked police in the Carlisle Circus and Antrim Road areas during significant but localised violence yesterday. Four officers were taken to hospital with various injuries. Only one remains in hospital and his injuries are not life-threatening, while 43 other officers were treated for various minor injuries.
The chief constable called on community leaders to take action to reduce tensions.
Mr Baggott said: “I am very proud of the courage and restraint shown by my officers last evening, in the face of extreme violence that resulted in 47 officers being injured and a number needing hospital treatment.
“We will continue to act as peacekeepers and to keep communities safe, however others have a responsibility within the community and wider society to resolve the conflict and tensions surrounding parading. Policing and the wider Northern Ireland community cannot afford a repeat of last night’s events.
“This is a distraction for my officers who want to be engaged in policing the real issues that matter to communities such as reducing the harm caused by drugs, protecting older people and reducing burglary.
“All of us in civic society need to engage seriously on these issues before they result in further unacceptable violence being displayed against my officers. Today I am seeking meetings with the Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Policing Board to ensure they are fully briefed on the extent and consequences of last night’s disorder.”
The rioting is close to the scene of disturbances that surrounded a loyal order parade on August 25th where bands defied Parades Commission restrictions on a section of a route passing a Catholic church where loyalists had previously played provocative tunes.
The restrictions were condemned in a controversial letter signed by leading unionists who called for the commission to be scrapped.
Tension is now rising ahead of a major loyalist demonstration planned for the same route later this month.
PSNI chief supt George Clarke said of last night’s violence: “I am both angry and sad that my officers have been subjected to such significant attack. They showed tremendous courage in the face of enduring violence.”
Mr Clarke said people would be held to account for their actions. “I am urging all individuals and communities affected by recent events to take a step back. Violence has serious and unwanted consequences for us all,” he said.
Sinn Féin politician Gerry Kelly said the violence on the Protestant side had been orchestrated by the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, two loyalist groups that are supposed to be observing a ceasefire.
At lunchtime yesterday a large crowd congregated between the Belfast Orange Hall and Carlisle Circus. A lawful parade had been organised but police had received no notification of a protest. When police arrived on the scene some people within the crowd had masked their faces and police observed masonry being broken up by a number of individuals.
Police talked to community representatives with the aim of reducing tension and facilitating the lawful parade.
To allow the parade to pass along its notified route, police moved the crowd back towards Carlisle Circus. Bricks and other missiles were thrown between parade supporters and protesters as the procession passed through the area, but the most sustained violence was directed at police lines. As the parade dispersed youths also began attacking police in the Antrim Road area.
Trouble continued throughout the night, until the area was reported calm at around 2am.
Police have arrested a 17-year-old male on suspicion of riotous behaviour.