Friday night’s attacks on the police were “justified”, a leading member of the Protestant Coalition has claimed.
Sam McCrory, chairman of the loyalist political party launched less than four months ago, also said that the police “took a very good beating and rightly so”.
In comments which could have serious legal repercussions for Mr McCrory, he explicitly defended the violence in a Facebook post.
That stance puts the Protestant Coalition, which was born out of the flag protests, in a more hardline position than the UVF’s political wing, the PUP, which condemned the rioting.
And in a separate video produced by the Protestant Coalition, Mr McCrory took credit for stopping Friday night’s dissident republican march entering Royal Avenue. Filmed after the riot, Mr McCrory said: “It’s been a victory for the Protestant, unionist, loyalist community here in the centre of Belfast. Dissident republicans didn’t get parading through the middle of our city. They were re-routed. In the end they accepted defeat. We claim the victory, so we do, for the decent citizens of Belfast.”
On Facebook on Saturday, responding to a comment from former TUV member David Vance that the violence in Belfast was wrong, Mr McCrory said: “David I [have to] disagree with you regarding the word WRONG. I do believe that you should replace it with the word JUSTIFIED. As one who was on the ground throughout yesterday and (sic) evening, I witnessed the brutality of the police against men, women and children without provocation and just to satisfy someone’s agenda.
“This is not the first time that I have witnessed events like this when police wade in hours before a parade takes place in order to get it started.
“They took a very good beating and rightly so because we [as] a people have had enough and what happened last night is just the beginning of the tide turning.”
Mr McCrory insisted he wanted to live in “a peaceful society” but said: “When the deck is unfairly stacked against you the only way is to challenge the dealer whatever way that you can.”
Mr McCrory could not be contacted yesterday. A colleague at the Protestant Coalition was also unable to track him down.
Unionist MLA John McCallister last night condemned Sam McCrory’s comments.
The NI21 deputy leader said: “There’s no justification whatsoever for what happened in Belfast on Friday night. When I condemn the violence, there are no ifs, buts or wherefores: it was wrong. Injuring police, wrecking our image internationally, jeopardising investment — it is wrong.”
Mr McCallister said that far from being a “victory” for unionism, as Mr McCrory claimed, Friday’s riot had been a disaster for everyone in Northern Ireland. He said that the “vast majority” of people would find it “crazy” to see a riot as victory.