A community worker has described recent scenes of violence in Belfast of a ferocity he had not witnessed since the start of the Troubles.
saac Andrews was on the scene on the Springfield Road earlier this month as the PSNI used water cannon to quell crowds for the first time in six years.
Trouble flared following a loyalist protest at the peace wall gates at Lanark Way on Wednesday April 7 following successive nights of protests, some of which ended in violence.
Scores of police officers were injured after being attacked with petrol bombs, fireworks and stones.
While loyalists clashed with police on one side of the gate, nationalist crowds were involved in clashes on the Springfield Road on the other side.
Mr Andrews described seeing over 100 people on the Springfield Road and he rushed to close an open pedestrian gate at Workman Avenue, a short distance along the peace wall from Lanark Way.
He said he came under attack as he prevented them gaining access to the Shankill, before republican community worker Sean Murray joined him and they did their best to secure the area.
“I was basically surrounded by about 150 nationalists who were trying to get through the gate to get into the unionist area, it was me singly trying to get a gate locked,” he said.
“The Workman Avenue pedestrian gate had been left open in the midst of everything that was happening at Lanark Way.
“I was attacked two or three times with bottles, bricks and planks of wood thrown at me.
“Five or 10 minutes into that, I heard someone shouting from the other side of the road which happened to be Sean Murray, and I was shouting back to him to help. Shortly after police arrived and after that the keyholder arrived.”
He said Farset International community centre and hostel was later surrounded by a crowd of 200-300 before police pushed them back, and the violence on both sides of the peace wall went on until around 1am.
“For me personally, what I witnessed over those two days was very reminiscent of what you would have seen in the early 1970s in street disorder, that’s how bad it was,” he said.
“It was ferocious at times and it was sectarian.
“It was like a flashback to the past and very frightening.”
The PSNI has ruled out orchestration of the violence by paramilitary groups.
Mr Andrews described the violence at Lanark Way as spontaneous.
“If it had been organised by paramilitaries, it would have been a lot more serious,” he said.
“But what happened on the Springfield Road was something completely different, what I witnessed was organised, it was not spontaneous. These crowds did not just appear.”