Warning over UVF influence on marches
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly has warned that loyalists have become the “spokespersons for the Protestant marching Orders when it comes to parading issues in North Belfast”.
Mr Kelly said a march last Sunday, during which a crowd of about 300 gathered peacefully to commemorate local United Irishman Henry Joy McCracken, was “deliberately made contentious”.
Senior loyalist figures were seen to monitor the outbreak of violence from Clifton Street Orange Hall on Sunday evening as a loyalist mob attacked the commemoration, which had been organised by the Republican Network for Unity.
A spokesman for the Orange Order later refused to explain how those on the balcony had managed to gain access to the Orange Hall.
Over 30 petrol bombs, hundreds of fireworks and pieces of masonry were thrown at police lines, while concrete masonry saws were used on the paving stones to provide a stream of ammunition.
The PSNI responded by deploying water cannons in Denmark Street and Antrim Road, but no plastic bullets were fired in trouble that lasted for up to 10 hours.
However, on Monday, as the violence resumed with even greater intensity, six plastic bullets were fired after a number buses and cars were hijacked and set alight by the loyalists.
Trouble then spread to the Lower Shankill area, where several hundred took the streets, including large numbers of members of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) who gathered in the area from other parts of Belfast.
Clashes also broke out on Tuesday night, but on a smaller scale.
Elderly residents of a nursing home were among those terrified when loyalist rioters broke into the grounds on Sunday night.
The mob overturned and torched bins containing both household and sanitary waste during the violence.
“They smashed one of the fire escape windows -- shattered it -- and that’s when we started moving residents to the back of the house,” said one staff member. “It was terrifying for residents.”
She said around 50 loyalists broke into the grounds but hundreds more were at the back gate of the property.
“They broke the electric gate, stole bins, all the garden furniture, plant pots and anything they could get their hands on,” she said.
“There was clearly a well-planned and orchestrated attempt.. to further heighten tensions in North Belfast around parading and it was in my view planned and orchestrated by the UVF,” said Mr Kelly, the local Sinn Féin representative.
Republican Network for Unity spokesman Ciaran Cunningham said: “Let’s remember, last year’s [McCracken commemoration] passed off without incident. The trouble yesterday was designed, it was engineered and it was deliberate.”
One of those pictured on the balcony of Clifton Street Orange Hall during the outbreak of violence said he and other loyalists were there “to try to keep the peace”.
Winston Irvine told the BBC that groups such as the UVF would not disband because they have a “corporate identity”.
“These are organisations that have people in them, They’re not subhuman. They’re not an object. They are human beings who live and work and play an active role within community life. They exist.
“Where do you want them to go? You’re talking about an organisation, a corporate identity. That’s a different thing.”