Belfast Telegraph

Former DUP MLA Jonathan Craig blames Sinn Fein for Belfast disorder as son's car torched

Commuters' cars torched in Markets and building destroyed in fire during day of shame

By Jonathan Bell

A former DUP MLA has blamed Sinn Fein for disorder in nationalist areas of Belfast.

The car of Jonathan Craig's son was torched during violence in the Markets area of Belfast on Monday afternoon. It was reduced to a shell. Violence flared after Belfast council workers removed bonfire materials.

"Needless to say he was shocked," said Mr Craig on the BBC Stephen Nolan show.

"It is unacceptable for anybody. These are hard-working people going about their normal business which benefits all in society and look what they are having to put up with."

He added: "I got very angry about this on a personal basis. What I sat back and noticed was right throughout July, Sinn Fein - because of their lack of movement with regard to the bigger political picture - tried to antagonise loyalists around bonfires. And they were going about it in a very blunt fashion.

"What they were trying to do was to undermine the culture behind it. They were deliberately trying to provoke those people into a reaction and unionist leadership on the ground thankfully prevented that.

"What they didn't realise was that in less than a month later it was gong to impact on themselves and we are seeing the consequences of this."

Sinn Fein has condemned the violence and said it supported the motion on bonfires at Belfast City Council to block those fires that pose a risk to life or property. It has been asked if it would like to respond to Mr Craig's comments.

Sinn Fein spent all of July trying to antagonize bonfire builders in loyalist areas but to no avail. They didn't fall...

Posted by Jonathan Craig on Monday, August 7, 2017

Rioters torched a Credit Union building in west Belfast on Monday night and burned cars parked in the Markets area that afternoon. Eyewitnesses said a hijack attempt was made on a Metro bus.

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 their 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.”

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 attacked belong to commuters working in the area. Police also came under attack from a group of young people as they attempted to calm tensions in Friendly Street.

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.”

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.”

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