SECTARIANISM was not the cause of the outbreaks of violence which saw petrol bombs thrown at police in Belfast on Monday night, republican politicians insisted yesterday.
Instead, the disruption – which saw traffic diverted in the south and east of the city – was blamed on teenagers and young people intent on causing mindless vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
Trouble broke out after reports of stone throwing in the Cromac Street, Markets and Lower Ormeau areas, as well as the Lower Newtownards Road and Short Strand interface.
A number of petrol bombs were thrown at police from Pitt Park and also in the Cromac Street area.
The News Letter understands the bombs were hurled at officers when they attempted to arrest a number of teenagers involved in the trouble.
While there were no reports of injuries, traffic was diverted and residents told to stay inside their homes as police officers liased with community representatives to restore order.
Yesterday, east Belfast area commander, Chief Inspector John McKeag, said he “utterly condemned” the violence and wanted to “reassure the community that police are committed to tackling the issue of public disorder”.
Ulster Unionist representative Michael Copeland said the street disturbances were a “tragedy waiting to happen” following a summer of incidents.
He expressed concerns that a planned parade and a football match between Old Firm rivals Rangers and Celtic on Saturday could spark more trouble.
South Belfast DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt condemned those responsible for the “mindless violence”, which he described as “an unfortunate reminder that for some, law and order seem to be irrelevant”.
But yesterday Sinn Fein politicians denied the incidents were linked or that they were the result of sectarian behaviour.
South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey called the disturbances “vandalism” and said there was “no political or sectarian or inter-community difficulties” involved.
Similarly, his East Belfast colleague, Niall O’Donnghaile, blamed the trouble in the Short Strand on young people, and said: “I wouldn’t even class this trouble as sectarian because I don’t think that’s the motivation. I think the motivation is to carry on and to wreck, and I think that’s the cause on both sides of the interface.”
He labelled it a “last ditch effort to get some sort of excitement before school starts back”.
But, he said: “It’s not trivial, it’s very, very serious.”