Dissident protest and a police ring of steel... as the DPP discuss bike safety
Dissident republicans have besieged the first public meeting of Derry District Policing Partnership in almost a year.
Members and supporters of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement threw firecrackers at the dozens of PSNI officers forming a ring of steel round Derry City Council's offices yesterday.
The meeting was to discuss the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety around schools, with several head teachers present.
Police surrounded the council offices from yesterday morning amid fears that protests and disruptions during previous meetings on the west bank of the city would be repeated.
Around 25 republican protesters gathered at the rear entrance of the Strand Road building carrying placards. Police officers blocked the gated entrance as dissidents tried to get into the building.
A council official arrived from behind the police line and told the protesters that the room where the DPP public meeting was being held was "full to capacity", and cited health and safety as the reason no-one else was being admitted.
This was met with a chorus of whistles and a torrent of abuse from the dissident protesters before chants of "SS RUC" broke out.
One man was arrested and escorted from the scene, but police confirmed he was "de-arrested" a short time later.
The group then walked to the front of the building, which had earlier been closed off, and threw numerous firecrackers over the railings close to where officers were standing.
A large 32 County Sovereignty banner was also unfurled, before the protesters made several more unsuccessful attempts to gain access via other entrances at the council offices.
Despite the events outside, the meeting went ahead as scheduled.
It was the first time the DPP has met in the west bank of Derry since November 2010, when a meeting at the Guildhall broke up in disarray as dissidents drowned out proceedings with anti-police chants and whistle- blowing.
The chairman of the DPP, SDLP councillor Thomas Conway, said he would have no difficulty in meeting with the dissident protesters, confirming that correspondence and even meetings between the DPP and dissident groupings had taken place in the past.
He added: "We have had a history in the past of people coming into meetings and causing a lot of disruption. As chair I have a huge duty to ensure the health and safety of those at the meetings.
"We will continue to have our meetings as normal. I would happily have a meeting in the cityside next week."