Belfast Telegraph

Girl hurt and flag burnt in St Patrick's Day skirmish

By Lesley Houston

A 12-year-old girl was injured when tensions erupted outside Belfast City Hall an hour after a 600-strong parade left the area at the start of the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Plastic bottles became weapons and a Union flag was burnt after rival groups, many of them children and teenagers, clashed when loyalist flag protesters announced a 24-hour vigil scheduled to conclude today at 1pm.

The loyalists said they were mounting a peaceful protest against the sea of green, white and orange festooning St Patrick's Day while restrictions remained in place on the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.

Key figures among the protesters said attempts to make the annual occasion a "neutral" one had failed.

They claimed unionists had been intimidated from shopping in the city and visiting restaurants while people draped in Irish tricolours walked about the city with impunity.

Two rival crowds gathered on either side of Donegall Place at the front of City Hall, closing part of it to traffic.

Dozens of police and members of the PSNI Tactical Support Group formed a barrier between the groups to keep them apart as insults were exchanged and sectarian slogans chanted.

Tempers frayed and then cooled as the crowd swelled and later dispersed over the course of the afternoon, with a large group of young people appearing on the scene draped in Irish flags before the 12-year-old girl was injured at Castle Junction.

Police said they were unable to comment on which group the girl had been with, but confirmed a man in his 30s had been arrested over the incident.

A nationalist woman also claimed she had been punched in the stomach by a member of a loyalist crowd flanking the protesters.

Area Commander Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said: "Isolated incidents of missiles being thrown have been reported.

"A young girl has been taken to hospital after being struck by a missile thrown from a crowd which had gathered at Castle Junction."

The rest of the evening passed off relatively peacefully.

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