Night of violence casts a shadow over the Twelfth
Six police officers injured and cars burnt out after a bust-up over flags explodes into riots and thuggery
A dark shadow hangs over the beginning of the Twelfth period today after serious violence engulfed a number of towns across Northern Ireland.
Fears of further rioting were high after simmering tensions erupted into ugly scenes in Ballyclare, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey in a row sparked by flags.
Crisis talks were held between politicians, police and loyalist representatives yesterday in a bid to quell fears of more trouble in Co Antrim.
The severe disruption started in Ballyclare on Saturday night before spreading to other towns, leaving six police officers injured and several vehicles hijacked and burnt out.
Violence broke out in the Doagh Road and Grange Estate areas of the town at 11.30pm on Saturday, when it is understood between 70 and 100 loyalists protested after officers removed flags.
During the worst of the disturbances, officers came under fire with petrol bombs and missiles in the early hours of yesterday.
Five officers were injured when a police vehicle was rammed with a hijacked bus in Ballyclare. The sixth was hurt after being struck by flying masonry. All the officers suffered whiplash.
In a bid to restore calm police deployed a water cannon and fired baton rounds.
The destruction is believed to have been sparked by the removal of union flags in the Co Antrim town which had been put up outside a Catholic church near the Grange estate.
Police said 12 flags — both legal and illegal — were removed from the area. During the crisis meeting, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay offered an apology to people who “felt they have not received the police service that we strive to deliver” over the flag removals.
Mr Finlay, however, said that “nothing excuses” the violence that broke out.
Following the riot Paul Girvan, DUP MLA, described the atmosphere in Ballyclare as an “uneasy calm”.
“Everybody is working hard to resolve this issue,” he said.
“The scenes in Ballyclare were horrendous. There is tension in the town but nobody wants to see that repeated.”
Trouble also broke out in Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, Carrickfergus and Ballyduff in Newtownabbey.
It is understood loyalists blocked roads in Carrickfergus and set a number of hijacked vehicles alight.
PUP representative Phil Hamilton denied, however, that any illegal organisations were involved in the violence.
“I don't think there's paramilitaries involved in it,” he said.
“I think we've seen a community at boiling point and it just shows what can happen, people's patience have just gone thin.”
A Catholic church in Harryville, Ballymena, was also attacked by vandals. The damage caused to the Church of Our Lady has been branded a deplorable attempt to raise sectarian tensions ahead of annual Orange marches.
In Coleraine, a man escaped injury after two shots were fired at a house in the Kingsbury Gardens area of the town shortly after 11pm on Saturday. SDLP Assembly member John Dallat said he believed the attack was sectarian.
A Catholic family, meanwhile, said they are moving from the Leckagh Drive area of Magherafelt after their home was attacked during trouble. The family said they no longer felt safe.
Their home was one of four damaged in overnight attacks.