An overwhelmingly peaceful Twelfth was last night marred by loyalist rioting in north Belfast – with 20 police officers confirmed injured in the area by Tuesday morning.
After tens of thousands of Orangemen and bandsmen celebrated the 325th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne at hundreds of events across Northern Ireland, several dozen loyalists attacked police with bottles and bricks at Woodvale and Twaddell.
A News Letter video of the moment the riot started (see www.newsletter.co.uk) shows several Orangemen openly urging on the rioters as they stormed police lines.
Based on the numerous large bolts hurled at police — some of which hit journalists — some of those in the crowd came equipped for a riot.
Police simply held their lines and did not introduce water cannon until a point when a senior officer, who was not wearing a riot helmet, was struck on their head.
Last year, unionist politicians promised a ‘graduated response’ to get the parade back up the road this year. But that petered out months ago and there was nothing like the same concerted political attempt to prevent violence.
The Orange Order condemned the violence.
In a statement issued as the rioting continued just before 10pm last night, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland condemned those engaging in violence and appealed for calm in north Belfast.
The statement said: “Those involved in violence should desist. It is not only counterproductive but also plain wrong.
“Such actions are only strengthening the hand of those who wish to further curtail our parades.
“We call on anyone engaged in illegal behaviour to stop immediately.”
The statement added a condemnation of what it said was a stoning attack on a bus carrying Orangemen through Greysteel yesterday evening.
The north Belfast rioting began just a matter of minutes after Orangemen and bands marched to police lines at Twaddell Avenue, where a crowd had been present for some time.
The bands played for several minutes before the rioters moved in. Later, a band played the sectarian Famine Song during a lull in the attacks.
The chairman of the Police Federation, Mark Lindsay, said that eight officers had been injured, including an inspector who had to be dragged from the front line in Woodvale.
He said that another officer “had to have 12 stitches to a finger after being bitten during an assault”.
Mr Lindsay also referred to an incident in which a teenage girl was injured by a car which reportedly drove into the crowd on the nationalist side of police lines.
He said that PSNI officers had acted “heroically” by lifting the car to rescue the seriously injured 16-year-old.
There were reports from onlookers that a loyalist reversed the car into the crowd. Local priest Fr Gareth Thomas said that objects had been thrown at the car before it careered into the crowd.
The PSNI, who were just yards away, said that they “immediately responded and administered first aid”. The driver of the vehicle was arrested.
Last night PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said that the girl’s injuries are not life threatening.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers condemned the “disgraceful” rioting and added: “Those responsible do nothing to further the cause they claim to promote.
“They damage Northern Ireland and wreck a day which should be about respectful celebration of cultural tradition.”
Earlier, one flute band openly breached a Parades Commission determination that music should not be played in the area of St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Donegall Street on the outbound route.
Finaghy True Blues were filmed playing the hymn How Great Thou Art and a member of the band told the BBC afterwards that it was not unusual to play hymns outside places of worship.
He said: “That’s just normal – that’s how it goes.”