Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Alliance office destroyed as 1,600 loyalists run riot

Mob behind flag protest mayhem labelled fascists

Alliance party office which was set on fire in Carrickfergus after a protest rally over the Union flag

A loyalist mob attempted to burn down an Alliance Party office as more violence erupted following a protest against the removal of the Union flag from Belfast’s City Hall.

Police fired plastic bullets after they came under attack following the protest by up to 1,600 people in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim.

Loyalists threw masonry, bottles and other missiles and three police officers were injured.

Four people were arrested.

Those behind the disorder were labelled “fascists” by one MLA as the fall-out from Monday’s controversial vote continued.

The Alliance Party says the Assembly must be recalled to discuss the growing unrest.

The Fire and Rescue Service was called to the constituency office of Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson (below) after barriers were removed, the premises broken into and an attempt to start a fire in the building.

He said the incident was an “outright attack on democracy”.

There were also reports a crowd had descended on the home of Alliance councillor Sean Neeson. He declined to comment.

The party’s members in Belfast, who hold the balance of power in the council, had voted in favour of the flag being taken down and flown only on designated days.

Mr Dickson told the Belfast Telegraph he was warned by police to keep away from the town last night and admitted to feeling concerned for his personal safety.

Along with his party leader and Justice Minister David Ford, Mr Dickson requested the Assembly be recalled and demanded answers from unionist politicians.

“This is an outright attack on democracy and cannot be allowed to continue,” said Mr Dickson.

“The police have informed me my office is on fire and all I can do is wait to see the extent of the damage.

“This campaign of intimidation against the Alliance Party cannot be allowed to continue. The blame lies firmly with the two unionist parties who distributed bogus leaflets across loyalist areas in Belfast ahead of the December meeting of Belfast City Council.

“They cannot expect to whip up unionist tensions and encourage people to protest and then wipe their hands of any involvement.

“The DUP and UUP have also failed to convincingly condemn both the violence that occurred in Belfast on Monday night and the threats and attacks against the Alliance Party”.

He added: “The Alliance Party will not continue to be bullied and intimidated by unionists.”

He said the incident brought back memories of 12 years ago when his house was attacked by loyalists after he spoke out against sectarian graffiti on the homes of Catholics in Carrickfergus.

East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson said those behind the violence were doing their cause a disservice.

“There is absolutely no justification for the carnage which has been caused in Carrickfergus this evening,” he said. “I unreservedly condemn the violence. Those involved do a disservice to the flag they claim to defend.”

TUV Leader Jim Allister said the scenes in Carrickfergus were “utterly wrong”.

“Whatever the level of alienation and anger, aping the violence of republicanism is not the way forward, even when the evident rewarding of the IRA has set a dangerous, but destructive template, which unionists must not follow,” he said.

SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt posted on Facebook: “There is only one word for people who go around torching MLA's offices and disrupting democracy. Fascists. Do people really want to be that?”

A post on the Twitter feed of the Police Federation likened the rioters to “the jackboots of 1939 Nazi Germany”.

Last night, a Twitter account set up in the name of the Orange Order in Lisburn called for people to turn out to protest at another Alliance MLA’s office.

“Please let Trevor (Lunn) know how you feel about Alliance treachery,” the Twitter post read.

Secretary of State’s fury at City Hall thuggery

By Elizabeth Barrett

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has condemned the “mobs seeking to beat down the door of City Hall” after Belfast City Council’s controversial vote on the flying of the Union flag.

Rioting loyalists injured 15 police officers, two council security guards and a press photographer when they tried to smash their way into the landmark building.

Ms Villiers told MPs during Northern Ireland questions in the House of Commons that she fully appreciated the strength of feeling on the flying of flags, stressing: “But there is nothing that could possibly justify the scenes of disorder that were witnessed outside City Hall in Belfast earlier this week.

“There are serious and significant sensitivities about flag flying, but these decisions must be taken on the basis of sound, reasoned discussions and democratic vote, not as a result of mobs seeking to beat down the door of City Hall.”

Her comments came as Tory MP Gareth Johnson said: “Northern Ireland is as much part of the UK as Dartford is, so does the Secretary of State share my deep disappointment that the Union flag will not fly continuously over Belfast City Hall?”

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker condemned the violence, calling it “unacceptable and without justification”.

Minister of State for Northern Ireland Mike Penning said: “What happened the other night was absolutely, fundamentally wrong. Police and security officers were assaulted and battered, just doing their job. It is fundamentally wrong no matter what was said and done in the chamber in there.

“That was done in a democratic way — you might not necessarily like what happened, but it was done in a democratic way.”

DUP parliamentary group leader Nigel Dodds said: “There can be absolutely no justification at any time for attacks on police officers or anyone or threats to elected representatives.

“Those of us who have been the subject of threats, assassination attempts and bombs at our constituency offices and homes know that very, very well indeed and we have no time for that whatsoever.”

Council adds an extra five days to flag-flying list

By Steven Alexander

The Union flag will fly over Belfast City Hall for the birthday of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge next month — but it probably won’t be fluttering for Kate at Stormont on January 9.

The City Council yesterday added an extra five days to the list of designated days on which the flag can be flown, making a new total of 20.

In line with this week’s controversial vote to end the 106-year-old tradition of flying of the flag all year round, the council initially said it would take its lead from Stormont and only display it on designated days. But the list of 15 days supplied to the Assembly Commission by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is a decade out of date.

It has been drawn from The Flags Regulations (NI) 2000, which was updated in 2002 to remove The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, who had died.

Since then, Westminster has failed to update the rules, meaning Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall wasn’t added when she married Prince Charles in 2005.

Nor were Prince William and Kate when they wed last year.

However, City Hall isn’t covered by the regulations, and yesterday added the extra birthdays. It also added the opening and closing of Parliament at Westminster to its list.

In a final twist, it was revealed the laws don’t even apply to Parliament Buildings, although they do cover Castle Buildings on Stormont Estate. Instead, they are used as a guide for Parliament Buildings. Assembly Commission member Pat Ramsey told MLAs that at the onset of devolved government, it was “decided to adopt the principle as outlined for other public buildings”.

The revelation came about after probing by TUV leader Jim Allister, who pointed out that the Assembly Commission — which makes arrangements for hoisting the flag — has a unionist majority in its voting arrangements.

“It is time the DUP came clean on this issue, particularly given the circumstances of the removal of the Union flag from City Hall, while all the time they do nothing to increase the flying of the flag at Stormont,” he said.

Councillor forced to quit her home remains defiant

By Victoria O'Hara

The Alliance councillor forced to leave her home after online threats were issued against her has spoken of her “determination to stand her ground” and continue the work she loves.

Laura McNamee (below) was advised by police to move from her east Belfast home after a threat was posted to her Facebook page on Saturday.

The threat against the 27-year-old was made amid controversy over Belfast City Council's vote on Union flag policy.

In the aftermath loyalists have protested at Alliance party offices across the province.

But Ms McNamee — a councillor since 2008 — said she will not be intimidated.

“As a young person in politics, the intimidation that has been directed at the Alliance Party only makes myself and others more determined to stand our ground as we aim to deliver what is right for Northern Ireland — a genuine shared future,” she said.

Ms McNamee, who was case worker for Naomi Long before she won her seat at Westminster, said she believed in her job as an elected representative

“It is the work I am doing on the ground that is important for the people of east Belfast, helping constituents and delivering real progress.”

Senior party colleagues have also stepped in to support Ms McNamee and condemn the threats, which the party’s East Belfast MP Naomi Long called “despicable”.

The party’s sole representative at Westminster said: “Now we see young women who do step |forward and take a stand for their community being intimidated and threatened and I think it is |appalling.”

Mrs Long said during her time as a case worker Ms McNamee had aided hundreds of |constituents at tribunals to help with disability allowance, benefits.

“She has assisted with housing enquiries, she has worked hard with local communites to get facilities for them.

“She does this because she is passionate about making east Belfast a better place.

“That’s exactly the kind of people we need in politics not the kind of people who want to stand up in City Hall and pontificate and wind things up but don’t want to get their hands dirty doing the real graft that it means to be a service.”

Councillor Maire Hendron described her as a “role model for young people”.

“I think Laura is an example of a young person of courage and |determination and I think she is a role model for any young person.

“She has been a member for quite a few years and she has worked in the constituency office for some years and is well-known and well respected in East Belfast.”

It has also sparked political condemnation from Sinn Fein councillors.

Deirdre Hargey described it as “bully boy tactics”.

“There is no justification whatsoever for intimidation like this,” she said.

“The bully boy tactics currently being engaged in by unionism need to stop.”

Speaking in Westminster |during Northern Ireland Questions DUP parliamentary group Leader Nigel Dodds also condemned both the violence and threats issued.

“There can be absolutely no justification at any time for attacks on police officers or anyone or threats to elected representatives.

“Those of us who have been the subject of threats, |assassination |attempts and bombs at our |constituency |offices and homes know that very, very well indeed and we have no time for that whatsoever.”

Story so far

Sinn Fein and the SDLP wanted to remove the flag completely from Belfast City Hall. Both parties backed Alliance's compromise motion to fly the flag on designated days. The vote was passed by 29 to 21. A loyalist protest outside the building erupted into violence. Eighteen people, including 15 PSNI officers, were injured, and some protesters broke through police lines and tried to storm into the hall. Loyalists angry at the Alliance for proposing the motion that changed a century-old tradition have picketed party offices.



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