Belfast trouble: Credit Union building torched in Divis just hours after cars are set ablaze in Markets area
Rioters who torched a Credit Union building in west Belfast last night blocked roads to prevent firefighters reaching the blaze.
The rampage of destruction came just hours after youths burned out cars and threw petrol bombs in another republican area, the Markets, in the south of the city.
Shocking images of the recently-derelict Credit Union in Divis emerged last night around 10pm, showing a crowd of up to 100 young people filling the streets.
Shortly afterwards, eyewitnesses reported an attempt by around five people to hijack a Metro bus, with the driver narrowly managing to escape.
With the Credit Union building fully engulfed in flames, fire crews were still unable to reach the area at 11pm last night over fears for their own safety.
Fire appliances were forced to wait outside nearby Grosvenor Road PSNI station, unable to reach the burning building after industrial bins were set on fire and used to prevent access.
They finally made it to the building with police protection, and began putting out the flames at around 11.45pm.
Sinn Fein MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey condemned the violence as “wanton destruction”.
“I would call on all on those involved in this to desist. I call on parents to know where there children are this evening and over the coming days because it is totally unacceptable what we’re seeing on the streets,” he said.
“People need to be protected — the fire and emergency services do a great job and should be allowed to do that free from fear or intimidation, especially from some of the young people running around this evening.
“This must be stopped and done away with. This is a residential area and my fear is that the fire does spread.”
Asked about the rioters’ motivation, Mr Maskey said: “It’s any excuse for these young people who want to cause trouble in the area.
“They claim they want bonfires, most people round here don’t want that. They’re a magnet for anti-social behaviour and we’re seeing that across Belfast this evening.”
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood visited the scene last night.
“It’s outrageous, these are mindless actions by thugs trying to destroy our own communities. There’s no place for this lawlessness anywhere in Belfast,” he said. “The community must unite against this.”
There were reports of crowds gathering in the New Lodge area of north Belfast, where a controversial anti-internment bonfire had recently been cleared, and at the Albertbridge Road.
However, there were no reports of serious trouble.
Hours earlier, masked youths threw petrol bombs and a number of cars were attacked and burned in broad daylight just hours after bonfire material was removed from a site in south Belfast.
Commuters had to be escorted to their vehicles by police after cars were targeted by a mob of youths in the predominantly nationalist Markets area.
At least two were burned out in Stewart Street and the windows of other cars were smashed, with paint also thrown at them.
The vandalism spree unfolded after wood from a bonfire site was removed from the area in a Belfast City Council operation on Monday morning.
Tensions have been rising in some loyalist and nationalist areas of Belfast this summer amid efforts by the council to take action against a number of unregulated bonfires.
Pyres will be lit in a number republican areas later this week to mark the anniversary of the introduction of the controversial policy of internment without trial in 1971.
Stewart Street is close to the city centre and Belfast Central train station and it’s thought many of the cars belong to commuters working in the area.
Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey said the attacks on cars were “unacceptable”.
“Both commuters and residents have been affected. Cars have been smashed with stones and several have been set alight. It is nothing short of mindless vandalism,” she said.
“There is no defending this behaviour at all and it needs to stop now. I’m asking all parents to take responsibility for their children and know where they are at all times. The community does not want this type of behaviour and it’s not representative of the people of this area.”
Police came under attack from a group of young people as they attempted to calm tensions in Friendly Street.
SDLP MLA Claire Hanna also condemned the incident.
“I understand that police escorted people back to their cars and these are people who are working nearby and trying to earn a living,” she said.
“It would appear this is linked to the removal of bonfire materials. Bonfires are destructive of property, environment and community relations. There is no excuse for this type of behaviour hours after council officers carried out their job.”
A council spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that bonfire material was removed from a car park during an operation in the Markets area on Monday.”
Police Superintendent Andrea McMullan said: “Local residents of the Markets do not want this kind of activity on their doorsteps and we would urge those engaged in violence and criminal damage to stop — and go home.”