East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson has condemned the recent violence in Carrickfergus – hours after a solemn Battle of the Somme parade united thousands who attended in remembrance.
On Friday Carrickfergus Castle provided a spectacular backdrop for the Somme centenary commemorations in the Co Antrim town where three hours of remembrance-themed events began with a parade of military veterans.
The parade was timed to enter the castle grounds at 7.28pm – exactly 12 hours after the troops went ‘over the top’ on July 1, 1916.
However, on Friday evening police responded to reports that a large crowd of males had gathered in the Castlemara estate in the town.
A PSNI spokesman said reports suggested some of the males were masked and may have been armed with weapons such as hammers.
Officers attended and dispersed the crowd seizing a number of items including a crossbow.
A 36-year-old man has been charged with causing a dangerous article to be on a road and is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on July 28.
And a 46-year-old man has been charged with riotous behaviour and is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on the same day.
Mr Wilson said: “To me what happened has insulted the memory of the people of the Somme.
“This once again brings a bad image on the town and impacts on their own community in an adverse way.”
It is understood that trouble in Castlemara began to flare from around 11pm onwards on Friday.
It continued until well into the early hours of Saturday, and one source said crowds of up to 40 people were on the streets, with stones and other missiles thrown at police.
On Saturday there was a heavy PSNI presence across the area, with police seen stopping and checking vehicles heading in the direction of the town.
The UDA’s South East Antrim branch has long been seen as a kind of rogue faction, removed from the mainstream of the organisation.
It was behind a major rampage in Larne in 2014 when scores of thugs attacked people and property.
In recent weeks across Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus, black flags of the UFF (the cover name used by the UDA for carrying out murder) have appeared in the region, often alongside newly-minted green flags bearing the Red Hand of Ulster, which are a tribute to the dead of the First World War.
DUP councillor for Carrickfergus, Billy Ashe, said: “We had a fantastic evening of remembrance in Carrickfergus which was attended by people from all over the Province.”
He said the violence erupted after “elements in the local UDA fell out among themselves”.
“It was a great pity and is one of the things we don’t want to see in Carrickfergus at any time as we thought we had left the days of gang warfare long behind,” he added.
“It didn’t fit in at the time of the year it erupted and it wouldn’t fit in at any time of the year. Carrickfergus does not want this.
“And for the good people that are living in those estates who are horrified and feel let down and frightened, the police have been fantastic and given great support.”