Police hope for weekend of trouble-free protests
Optimism after Chief Constable meets loyalists
Top level talks between the Chief Constable and east Belfast loyalists have been held in a bid to prevent further violence over the weekend.
A senior PSNI source said the meeting left police feeling “quite hopeful” that the weekend will pass peacefully.
Talks between community groups and officers on the ground will continue throughout today to try and prevent a repeat of last weekend’s rioting, which erupted as protesters returned to the east of the city after their Union flag demonstration at the City Hall.
Yesterday’s meeting between Matt Baggott and community representatives came just hours after loyalist paramilitary leaders in east Belfast called for an end to violence.
Along with church leaders and community representatives, members of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando delivered 5,000 leaflets to homes in the area calling on those involved in current rioting to stop.
They also insisted that those who come into east Belfast to riot “are not welcome”.
Despite calls for an end to violence, the group did not call for an end to the street protests, which have caused disruption to many parts of the city for more than six weeks and resulted in violent clashes.
“This is not about stopping the protests. People here have their different views on the protests. This is about bringing the violence to an end,” said the Rev Gary Mason, the Methodist minister at the East Belfast Mission.
“The vast majority of the protests have been peaceful.
“This is a good news story coming out of east Belfast. All these groups are saying the violence has to stop. It’s not serving this community, it’s demoralising this community, it’s creating unemployment, so the violence must stop.”
The Rev Mervyn Gibson of Westbourne Presbyterian Church admitted he did not know if the group’s calls would fall on deaf ears.
“But we have to try something. This is east Belfast as a community, as a people, coming together to say to those involved in riots ‘you are not welcome in east Belfast’,” he said. “We are asking them to stop, to give the people of east Belfast breathing space.”
A number of protests have been arranged in many parts of Belfast this evening and loyalists are again planning to gather at the City Hall tomorrow before marching together to east Belfast.