Belfast Telegraph

Derision for troublemakers who turned St Patrick's Day celebrations ugly in Belfast

By Leslley Houston

It was a day that began so well, with people from both sides of the community joining in the St Patrick’s Day parade.

The Belfast City Council event, created by Beat Carnival, reflected the spirit of the organising body’s name, achieving a mood of collective goodwill.

It was indeed a carnival atmosphere on the streets of the city yesterday, before 1pm at least.

When flag protesters arrived in front of the City Hall, their presence was the catalyst for a swift turn of temper.

Northern Ireland’s entrenched factional tensions erupted when their arrival prompted a sectarian slanging match between unionists and nationalists draped in tricolours.

A small, dignified group of protesters arrived for a 24-hour protest until 1pm today, protesting against he “field of green white and orange” enveloping the city while the Union flag —permitted to fly yesterday in honour of Ireland’s patron saint — is restricted to just 20 further days.

Many of those who gathered are part of the regular contingent of protesters who meet outside City Hall every Saturday since the council took the decision to restrict the flying of the flag back in December 2012.

What had been a joyful mood at noon had soured by 1pm with venomous expletives replacing the music which had people dancing on the spot as they lined the procession.

Amid the palpable tension was the anachronistic spectacle of a group of people playing with a gigantic skipping rope.

Frenchmen Basile Rousseau and Sullyvan Mariette looked bemused as they arrived at Donegall Place around 2pm.

As flags of red, white and blue planted outside the City Hall grounds vied for supremacy against the roving sea of green, white and gold, the pair, who came to work in Belfast last September, had never seen St Patrick’s Day in motion before.

“It’s quite scary. We didn’t expect this at all,” said Basile.

Visitors from Milton Keynes, Daniel Crawley and Emma Johnson, took the crowds in their stride, noting how many of those involved in the abusive exchanges were “very young”.

“I don’t think it’s very intimidating at all really,” Daniel said.

“We were here for the parade which was great and went down to Custom House Square and we were thinking it’s just a lot of children off school.”

Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon said: “Twelve thousand people, mostly young families, attended today’s St Patrick’s Day parade and carnival with 5,500 at the free concert in Custom House Square.

“The atmosphere was happy and fun and both events passed off peacefully. For a tiny minority with nothing to do with these events to turn up afterwards to antagonise and provoke is not only sorrowful, it is shameful.”

Last night, hundreds of young people gathered in the Holylands area of south Belfast and as it turned dark police in the area said while spirits were high there had been no serious incidents.

Hundreds of people milled around drinking and the streets were littered with broken glass.

Agincourt Avenue was a sea of people but police were on beat patrol in the area amid the crowds keeping control.

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