Call for peaceful Union flag rally
Published 18/11/2013 | 11:36
Police have warned anyone intending to mark the anniversary of the Union flag dispute with violence to think again, as they revealed that 260 people have been convicted in relation to loyalist public disorder in the last 12 months.
Many more suspects are set to go before the courts, as a total of 560 people have been charged or reported to prosecutors in connection with flags or parading unrest since last December.
As the PSNI provided an update on action against those involved in flag-related rioting last winter and parading unrest during the summer, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr expressed concern that trouble could again flare in the coming weeks.
Loyalists are planning a mass rally in Belfast city centre at the end of the month to mark one year since Belfast City Council's controversial vote to limit the flying of the Union flag at City Hall - a decision that triggered weeks of loyalist demonstrations, a number of which descended into serious disorder.
"Of course we are concerned about the end of the month," said Mr Kerr.
"Of course we are concerned when you see a lot of planned discussed activity towards the end of this month/beginning of next month and as we come up close to the 12-month anniversary of the flags protests, of course we are concerned about that, any police service would be.
"The point we are trying to make today is as well as the significant number of arrests and convictions secured this year so far, we don't want to see those scenes repeated again, we don't want to have to spend 2014 making hundreds more arrests for activity over the next couple of weeks on the streets of Belfast."
Mr Kerr said people had the right to protest but insisted any activity had to be peaceful and not have an undue impact on the wider community.
Detectives investigating disorder linked to parading disputes in Belfast in July and August have issued images of 150 more suspects.
Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Sean Wright said: "In the past 12 months, police officers have dealt with a number of episodes of serious disorder on the streets of Northern Ireland.
"We have been clear from the outset that there would be consequences for individuals who seek to engage in illegal activity and we have been carrying out a thorough investigation to identify those involved and make them amenable for their actions."
Officers have trawled through 1,800 hours of CCTV footage and are processing more than 1,500 images.
Mr Wright added: "More arrests will follow but the PSNI is acutely aware of the impact of this disorder on our communities.
"We do not want to see large numbers of people, including young people, being criminalised and ending up before the courts and I would urge everyone with influence to do what they can to ensure we do not witness similar scenes on our streets - we don't want to spend 2014 investigating further offences committed in the winter of 2013 and beyond.
"We would urge anyone who is involved in protest activity to ensure their actions are lawful and peaceful at all times."
Appealing for the public's help to identify the suspects in the latest series of images, the senior detective said: "It is vital that we all send out a message to those involved in public disorder that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
"Those who break the law must face consequences for their actions. They will be dealt with appropriately and proportionately through the criminal justice system.
"I would also ask anyone who believes one of the images is of them to contact us immediately in order to help us with our inquiries."