Belfast Telegraph

Police attacked in north Belfast for third night

By Steven McCaffery and Michael McHugh

Police have come under attack in a third night of disturbances in north Belfast.

Officers were pelted with fireworks and bricks in the Carlisle Circus area in the north of the city last night.

Riots around the same location over recent nights have left more than 60 officers injured.

Police used water canon and baton rounds during serious violence on Sunday and Monday which has been sparked by fresh tensions over parades.

Officers have called for politicians to do more to calm the sectarian disturbances which loyalist paramilitaries have been accused of orchestrating.

And with a major loyalist parade planned for September 29 the Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said: "Northern Ireland cannot afford an 11th hour solution."

The senior officer expressed fears that lives could be lost if the issue is not resolved.

Stormont leaders have pledged to help tackle the parade tension that surfaced after restrictions were placed on loyalist marchers who had played offensive tunes outside a Catholic church near the scene of the riots.

On Monday night 15 police officers were injured during serious disorder in the area.

Three were taken to hospital during trouble that saw rioters throw 15 petrol bombs at police lines in the Carlisle Circus area.

Officers used water cannon and fired six baton rounds at the crowds as troubled flared last night.

Rioters also hurled stones, bottles, fireworks and rocks and hijacked a van in Denmark Street before pushing it towards police lines.

Crowds again gathered in Denmark Street tonight before violence broke out. Police have closed roads leading to the area.

Terry Spence, chairman of the Northern Ireland Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: "Their bravery and courage is in stark contrast to that of the cowardly thugs responsible for trying to murder them."

The latest disorder came after 47 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers were injured on Sunday night during riots linked to a republican parade nearby and a loyalist protest.

Mr Kerr said: "I am very proud of how my colleagues stood in the face of danger, working to bring this situation under control, but I am saddened and angry that again we find ourselves subject to serious violence from the communities we serve.

"Let me be clear, we have made seven arrests already and with a robust criminal justice strategy in place, there will be more.

"The community of North Belfast needs to see a resolution to this issue now.

"Collectively, we cannot afford to wait and we cannot have night after night of violence on our streets. Following two nights of disorder, we have a number of police officers who are no longer available to deliver their core policing duties, protecting the communities they serve."

He said the violence had to be brought to an end.

"And the huge impact on Northern Ireland cannot be ignored. As we strive to promote our positive image, the negative effect of these violent pictures on jobs, tourism and investment cannot be underestimated. We do not want to take a backward step.

"I urge all those with influence to urgently use it to bring a resolution to the violence and work towards a longer-term solution for the issues affecting this area."

Rioting by night, peace by day: Belfast seeks a swift solution

Catholic and Protestant leaders decry the violence, which some locals put down to unemployment

By David McKittrick

Carlisle Circus in north Belfast, where in recent nights dozens of police have been hurt by bricks, stones, bottles and fireworks in savage rioting, on Monday morning a picture of utter normality.

People were parking their cars, visiting the nearby hospital, popping into local shops and casually strolling around. No police were to be seen. That was at 10am.

"At a quarter past seven this morning it was like Beirut when I came to open the premises," the manageress of a local shop said wonderingly. "Glass everywhere, bricks, bottles, everything, you name it."

Another shopkeeper agreed: "By eight o'clock, you wouldn't think anything had happened here - they'd tidied the street and cleared away the bricks and whatever else had been thrown."

Some effects of rioting are not so easily remedied: the police casualties include two officers knocked unconscious and another with a broken arm. It is this human cost which led a senior officer to challenge politicians to "sort this out and sort it out now."

Although the rioters included many Catholic teenagers, the crux of the police problem lies in the tough loyalist heartland of the Shankill Road district. Most police injuries were inflicted when hundreds of Protestant youths poured out of the Shankill.

The trigger was an unforeseen new parading controversy sparked by loyalist bandsmen who played a contentious tune outside a nearby Catholic church. This was condemned as highly disrespectful by both Catholic and Protestant church leaders.

While few have tried to defend what was viewed as a nakedly sectarian incident, it struck a chord among many loyalists who feel "the other side" are doing too well.

A 31-year-old Protestant man who lives within 50 yards of the riot zone said: "There's nothing wrong with the parades. They should go ahead." So was the whole thing about marching?

He explained: "It just came to a head because the taigs (Catholics) were getting away with everything, getting everything they want, and we just can't hack it any more."

The Shankill has high unemployment, and he is out of work. He believes it is easier for Catholics to find jobs than Protestants - "Aye, definitely," he said. "They get the work on the building sites and all."

He and others in the immediate district all said the rioters were not local youths, but had come in from other parts of the Shankill and elsewhere. "They're not from round here," he said. "Some of them are from ten miles away. It's madness, it's a shambles."

One of his criticisms of police was that they had placed a camera vehicle close to his house: these are used to film disturbances, providing footage which is often later used in prosecutions.

Rioters concentrated on the vehicle, he complained: "It was just antagonising them to throw bricks. Some of them missed the cops and hit our houses. My kids were crying."

An old Protestant lady blamed both sides, saying: "It's six of one and half a dozen of the other. They're a lot of hooligans, the whole lot of them, both sides. The majority of people here are decent hardworking people."

But the marching issue is important to her: "I didn't agree with them playing like that outside a chapel if there's services on.

"But people have strong feelings about marching. It's our heritage, our religion, and I don't believe they should be stopped, not for one minute," she insisted.

A retired man pottering in his little garden added: "I watched it developing. There were people just coming and going here as if it was their own place. Most of them were just onlookers. The cops in my opinion did a good job. The cops are okay - they took care of most of the bother and stood up to it."

The picture is that the riots, while both dangerous and highly telegenic, are localised and the work of a few disaffected elements numbered in the hundreds rather than thousands. There is no sense that entire communities are pitted against each other.

Politicians and community leaders are now urgently seeking to defuse the issue, not least because a major march is scheduled for later this month.

In doing so they will be battling against the tide of history, for the area saw more killings than any other during the troubles. It witnessed so many that one stretch was known as murder mile.

Carlisle Circus itself featured a statue of "Roaring Hugh" Hanna, a Protestant preacher whose fiery sermons often stirred up rioting. It stood there for decades until, in 1970, it was blown up by republicans.

Even further back, the district has the dubious distinction of being close to the scene of Belfast's first ever sectarian riot. This broke out following an Orange march in 1813: next year will bring the 200th anniversary of that outbreak, the first of thousands.

Belfast Telegraph


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