Cross-community condemnation of republican rioting

Rioting breaks out after marchers take part in a republican anti-internment rally in Belfast
Rioting breaks out after marchers take part in a republican anti-internment rally in Belfast

Dissident republican rioters injured a number of police officers with petrol bombs, stones and bottles after an illegal parade was blocked from entering Belfast city centre.

The rioting was condemned by the DUP, UUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance Party, PUP and the PSNI. Police made four arrests.

The halting of the Anti-Internment League march in a nationalist area in the north of the city passed off without incident on Sunday, however officers were forced to deploy water cannon an hour later when republican rioters threw petrol bombs, stones and bottles at them.

The parade had been granted permission by the Parades Commission to pass through the city centre, but only before 1.30pm, in an effort to minimise city centre disruption.

However, organisers had publicly rejected the restriction and used Facebook to call on participants to breach the limitations which had been placed on them.

And when the 1.30pm deadline passed, the parade had not even left its designated start point in the nationalist Ardoyne area.

Police commanders announced that it would be halted.

As loyalist counter protests in the city centre dispersed, police rolled out a huge security operation to stop the march on the Oldpark Road around 2.5 miles away.

Parade participants, including a number of bands, marched up to the police cordon.

They held a rally for around 30 minutes, with speeches, cheering and music.

At the conclusion, organisers urged people to disperse peacefully.

The parade turned and went back up the Oldpark Road without incident.

However, an hour later trouble broke out in the area where the parade had been stopped.

Speaking ahead of the event, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said police asked organisers to contact them for several days regarding “speculation” that the parade may breach restrictions.

North Belfast DUP MLA William Humphrey said: “This pointless parade has caused massive disruption and cost to the public purse. It had no purpose other than to raise a redundant issue from over 40 years in the past.”

He added: “The organisers of this parade of shame have succeeded only in increasing inter-community tensions, causing huge expense for a massive policing operation and disrupting our city centre trade.”

The Parades Commission and the PSNI must take stock of the malicious and provocative intentions of the organisers of this event and should ensure that this pointless parade becomes as redundant as the issue it purports to raise.”

A DUP delegation met with police last week to press the PSNI to enforce Parades Commission restrictions, he said, welcoming the fact that the police heeded his call to halt the “illegal parade”.

UUP policing spokesman Ross Hussey MLA said the failure by republicans to comply with the Parades Commission determination put the PSNI in “an impossible position”.

“It is clear that the police went more than the ‘extra mile’ in attempting to reach a solution to the parade dispute but despite their best efforts the organisers decided they would challenge the determination.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also hit out.

He said: “Those who organised today’s so-called anti-internment demonstration in Belfast bear full responsibility for the violence which followed.”

The now annual march is organised to mark the introduction of internment without trial by the Stormont administration in August 1971 which parade organisers the Anti-Internment League believe is still continuing.

Speaking after the rioting, ACC Martin said: “Due to the parade acting unlawfully, in breach of the Parades Commission determination, police intervened and stopped it on the Oldpark Road.

“After a period of time most people dispersed peacefully but unfortunately some were intent on engaging in disorder and a number of missiles and petrol bombs were thrown at police in the area of Rosapenna Street.

“Water cannon was used in the area to manage the disorder and a number of officers sustained minor injuries.”

A 53-year-old man was arrested for common assault and disorderly behaviour in College Square East and two men, aged 24 and 21, were arrested for offences related to the supply of petrol bombs.

A 36-year-old female was also arrested for riotous behaviour.

“Police will now review the evidence gathered and pursue all relevant lines of inquiry relating to any offences or breaches of the Parades Commission determinations.”

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the Parades Commission breach was “totally unacceptable”.

She added: “I commend the professionalism and courage of the PSNI in once again protecting the whole community from such lawless behaviour.”