Union Flag burned and girl injured as tensions simmer

Flag protestors
Flag protestors

A Union Flag was burned by republican revellers as rival groups gathered in Belfast city centre yesterday.

Pictures emerged of the flag being set alight by youths and teenage girls draped in Irish tricolours in Donegall Street, opposite to where loyalist protestors had gathered at the gates of Belfast City Hall.

Tension escalated as both groups waved their flags as police separated the crowds amid singing and chanting.

Around 1pm a number of loyalist protestors had gathered at Belfast City Hall. One told the News Letter this was set to be the start of a 24-hour vigil.

A PSNI spokesman said a young girl had been taken to hospital after being struck by a missile thrown from the crowd gathered at Castle Junction.

And a man in his 30s was also arrested for disorderly behaviour and will be reported to the PPS.

PSNI Area Commander Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said police in Belfast city centre were monitoring crowds.

“Isolated incidents of missiles being thrown have been reported,” he said.

By the late afternoon, Donegall Place had been closed to traffic due to the large number of people gathered and motorists were advised to avoid the area.

In the early afternoon, flag protestor Billy Dickson said they had decided to hold a protest on St Patrick’s Day at City Hall after a day of celebrations in which “Belfast was not a neutral city because it has been taken over by republicanism”.

The community activist said they were “noticing now more than ever” that St Patrick’s Day is being “hijacked by tricolours and intimidation of unionists in the city centre”.

“When unionists go into the city centre they feel intimidated, even if they are getting something to eat,” he added.

Mr Dickson estimated there were in excess of 50 flag protestors standing outside Belfast City Hall.