Sinn Fein was coming under increasing political fire today after a night of serious violence during which police were forced to fire baton rounds on the streets of Belfast.
Trouble exploded into a night of mayhem and destruction as up to 200 loyalists and republicans clashed following a Sinn Fein rally to celebrate the closure of Mountpottinger Police Station in east Belfast.
Missiles, including bricks, paving stones and golf balls were thrown between the two groups as well as at police officers trying to calm the situation. Officers were forced to open fire with baton rounds when rioters refused to disperse from the area.
Sinn Fein was today accused of being “reckless” and “provocative” for organising the rally in a flashpoint area where there is a history of sectarian clashes.
DUP MLA Robin Newton said: “I lay the blame for this firmly at Sinn Fein. They held this carnival at the closure of Mountpottinger Station knowing that those who had campaigned to keep it open would find it insulting.”
However, east Belfast Sinn Fein representative Niall O Donnghaile said that the violence had nothing to do with the rally, but was an escalation of trouble that has been ongoing at the interface for the past 18 months.
”What I can say is that the people who were taking part in the rally dispersed peacefully and went about their business. There was no connection between the rally and what happened. “
Lord Mayor Naomi Long said that serious questions need to be asked of Sinn Fein as to why they held the rally.
“The closure of Mountpotinger has been a difficult and sensitive issue on both sides. Before the rally was held we did question the wisdom of holding a rally around these events. It shows a complete lack of political maturity. We thought this was quite a provocative move. It is a very sensitive issue and should have been handled with more maturity.”
The PUP’s Dawn Purvis added: “There has been ongoing trouble in that area so why would you bring people onto the streets when you know it is going to lead to trouble?”