Belfast riots: As the bricks flew, a young boy cried and asked to go home. His laughing mother said: don’t be such a baby
Published 05/09/2012 | 00:00
Sitting in their prams on a sunny Sunday afternoon a number of young children had a perfect view of the masked mobs hurling bricks and bottles at police officers.
Each time a missile was thrown their parents and older siblings cheered.
One young boy began to cry and asked to go home. His mother laughed and told him not to be such a baby.
Violence first flared at 2pm when around 350 loyalists congregated between Clifton Street Orange hall and Carlisle Circus to protest against a lawful republican parade, which had been notified through the Parades Commission.
The hardline republican group Republican Network for Unity (RNU) organised the parade for a second year to commemorate Henry Joy McCracken, founder of the United Irishmen.
The march passed through the nationalist New Lodge and North Queen Street to Clifton Street Cemetery to lay wreaths.
When police arrived in the area to prepare for the arrival of the parade some people within the loyalist crowd had masked their faces and began to attack officers with broken-up masonry.
Police talked to community representatives to help reduce tension, and the area returned to a level of uneasy calm for a short period.
To allow the parade to pass along its notified route, police moved the loyalist crowd back towards Carlisle Circus and again came under attack.
As the procession marched past Clifton Street Orange hall, where a group of loyalists were sitting on a balcony taking photographs of participants, a number of republican youths began to throw bricks and golf balls.
Several windows in the Orange hall were smashed.
Loyalists and republicans used social media sites to call for people to come and support them and crowds congregating in the area began to swell.
While police attempted to keep the republican and loyalist gangs apart, bricks and other missiles were thrown between parade supporters and protesters.
However, the most sustained violence was directed at police lines.
The violence intensified into the evening and overnight, with more than 30 petrol bombs, hundreds of fireworks and slabs of concrete being used to attack police.
Bins were set on fire and pushed towards police lines.
Police dogs and water cannon were used to try and control the crowds. Senior officers took a tactical decision not to discharge plastic bullets.
Almost 50 police officers were injured during several hours of sustained rioting.
They suffered burns, broken bones and head injuries, with four in need of hospital treatment.
During the violence Clifton Nursing Home came under attack. There was significant damage caused outside the rear of the building where rioters set bins on fire and equipment was vandalised. Some of the garden furniture was broken up and used by the rioters as missiles.
The home said that none of their patients were hurt during the incident, but had been left very distressed.
“We would wish to pay tribute to staff who remained on duty to assure and comfort patients and monitor security on the site.
“We are utterly dismayed at the actions of those involved in (Sunday) night’s actions,” a spokeswoman for the home said.
The PSNI said the initial violence was caused by loyalists and that the majority of petrol bombs were thrown from loyalist lines.
However, loyalists accused parade participants of throwing bricks and golf balls at “a group of peaceful observers”.
They accused the parade organisers of setting out with the intention of attacking protestants and the Orange hall.
Loyalists said they had organised their protest to show their “disgust” at the decision of the Parades Commission to allow the parade pass an Orange hall and Protestant homes without deeming it contentious.
But republicans have blamed the UVF for orchestrating the violence.
The RNU claimed that parade participants came under attack from loyalists, including well-known figures within the UVF, as they marched towards Clifton Street Cemetery. They claimed that several marchers and a number of children were injured.
They admitted that some local youths retaliated to the loyalist attack, but said that stewards pushed them back.
Violence in north Belfast had been brewing from the previous weekend when loyalists defied a ban on their bands playing music as they filed past St Patrick’s church in Donegall Street.
There are fears of further trouble in the area at the end of this month when thousands of loyalists are scheduled to pass St Patrick's on September 29. The parade is part of a day-long commemoration of the 1912 Ulster Covenant — the mass unionist opposition to Home Rule 100 years ago.
However, PSNI Chief Superintendent George Clarke said there is “in no way an inevitability of violence”.
“We as a community have to step back and look at what happened last night. We really do need to realise that conflict is not inevitable. It can be avoided,” he added.