Newsflash: Unionist intimidation and violence continue
Trouble has broken out again in Belfast this evening after more than a
thousand loyalists, including a number of masked paramilitaries,
marched to the city centre to demand the Union Jack flag be reinstated
year-round atop Belfast City Hall.
The march followed days of violence directed against the offices and
homes of the Alliance Party and its councillors. The party's votes on
Belfast city council were crucial in reducing the flying of the British
Union flag at City Hall from 365 days a year to 15 royal events and
other designated days.
The change of policy has inflamed the larger unionist parties and
right-wing elements in Britain. Today's march had clear fascist
overtones, and culminated with crowds cheering the burning of Irish
tricolour flags by masked individuals.
It was supported by the unionist parties, the right-wing UKIP and the
extreme-right BNP parties, and forced shops and the city's Christmas
market to close.
Rioting broke out later as marchers returning to east Belfast burned
out a car on the Newtownards Road and threw stones at the PSNI police
near the nationalist Short Strand.
Last night, there were also serious clashes in the Shaftesbury Square,
Crumlin Road and Ligoniel Road areas of Belfast, as well as
disturbances in Newtownabbey, Bangor, and Lisburn. Water cannon were
deployed to douse burning cars.
Also last night, the loyalist paramilitary UVF were widely blamed for
disrupting a large Christmas event in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast,
after a number of vehicles were set on fire close to Mossley Mill.
Six hundred people, including many children, were trapped inside
Newtonabbey council buildings as loyalists burnt cars and rioted.
The DUP has been widely blamed for motivating the violent protests.
Today, the party refused to condemn the burning of the Irish flag at
the protest in Belfast city centre.
The PSNI has said it accepts that loyalist paramilitary groups have
been involed in orchestrating the disorder in Belfast and in the nearby
Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly has stated that "political
unionism", meaning the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party, "must exert
itself, show leadership and work to end this situation".
"Political unionism has failed," he said. "It has sent muted words and
mixed messages which has seen loyalism come on to the streets and a
continuation of road blocks, riots and intimidation for nearly a week
"Within the space of this week we have seen attacks on Belfast City
Hall and Alliance party members homes and offices, death threats
against elected representatives and many protests turning violent."
The north Belfast representative said there was "nothing new" in the
"We have seen the orchestration between political unionism and violent
loyalism many times before when they did not get their way," he said.
"We saw it in 1969, The Ulster Workers Council strike, the Anglo Irish
Agreement and Drumcree to name a few occasions.
"But times have changed. Belfast is a shared city. It needs to
represent all sections of the community that live in it and not have
one identity stamped over all others. Unionism needs to accept the need
for, and the reality of, equality."
He said that mixed messages from unionists, such as demands for
increased British flag flying at Stormont, was not showing leadership
and would not de-escalate the situation.
"We need to see much more from unionist political leaders at all levels
of representation across the north.
"They must exert themselves by standing firmly against the ongoing
situation and taking real and meaningful steps to end the violence and
intimidation on our streets."