Irish Republican News · December 21, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Fresh loyalist disturbances underway
Fresh loyalist disturbances underway

loyalistprotestbig.jpg

Loyalists are again attempting to bring the North to a standstill this evening with road closures in Belfast and across the north.

The demonstrations coincide with evening rush-hour on what is also the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

Trouble broke out at similar protests on Monday night as loyalists again took to the streets over a reduction in the flying of the British Union Jack flag at Belfast City Hall.

Loyalists have been demonstrating against that decision on an almost daily basis for over two weeks.

Dozens of locations have been listed for protests on a website this evening, including areas of Belfast, Bangor, Portadown, Lisburn, Newtownards and Carrickfergus.

Plans to push ahead with the protests came as political leaders held a marathon special meeting at Stormont yesterday to discuss the flags crisis.

After almost eight hours of talks the five main parties issued a joint statement.

The collective response condemned the riots that have marred some of the demonstrations. However, it did not call for an end to the protests.

Protests are taking place this evening at flashpoints such as Twaddell, Hesketh and Crumlin Road in north Belfast as well as at Finaghy and Shaw’s Bridge in the south of the city, the Knock carriageway in the east and Shankill Road and the Broadway roundabout in the west.

Demonstrations are also planned for Larne, Derry, Portadown and Ballymena.

MONDAY MAYHEM

There are fears that the protests could lead to rioting, as seen on Monday night when loyalist mobs erupted into violence in several areas.

The worst of the disturbances took place in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, where a tourist bus was burned out by loyalists armed with petrol bombs. Tourists visiting Belfast city centre had to be taken back to County Wexford in a replacement coach.

Clashes also took place at a flags protest near the Alliance Party office on the Newtownards Road, where a mob of 200 loyalists ran amok. Belfast Telegraph reporter Adrian Rutherford was punched to the ground and his phone was stolen by a masked man as he reported from the scene in east Belfast.

In other incidents, a taxi driver was attacked by protesters blocking a road in north Belfast. The driver, who did not want to be named, said he stopped at a junction when a man who appeared to be orchestrating the blockade ordered a gang of youths to attack his car.

“I keep hearing that these protests are peaceful when they’re anything but,” he said. “Had they managed to drag me from my car I have no doubt would have been seriously injured or even killed.”

In the county Antrim town of Carrickfergus, five masked loyalists burst into the Town Hall and terrified councillors.

A veteran Alliance Party politician, Sean Neeson said he was left “shaken” after the gang stormed into the council chamber and shouted sectarian abuse at him. One of the gang reportedly called Mr Neeson a “Fenian c***” while another pointed an object, believed to have been a golf umbrella, in the direction of councillors.

Trouble also flared in Lisburn and Portadown as the blockades closed dozens of roads across the North.

OMINOUS DEVELOPMENTS

Later in the week, British Union Jack flags were newly erected at a number of sectarian interfaces. The move came as loyalist paramilitary groups ended their support for an agreement on the reduction of flag-flying in the North.

As part of the new campaign of intimidation, flags were erected near Catholic schools and in dozens of other controversial locations -- including outside Holy Cross Girls Primary School in north Belfast, the scene of a bitter loyalist protest a decade ago which made headlines around the world.

In east Belfast, members of the UVF have been accused of orchestrating the protests and being involved in violent incidents sucb as attacks on the offices of the SDLP and Alliance parties in the North. On Wednesday, five Assembly members from Sinn Fein and Alliance received death threats in the form of bullets posted to their offices.

This week, the PSNI said they had arrested sixteen people across the North, nine children and just seven adults. Among those held were children aged 11 and 12. However, it is understood that no loyalist paramilitaries have yet been arrested or threatened with the revocation of their release licences -- a routine PSNI tactic against former republican prisoners.

eirigi’s Pádraic Mac Coitir said the flags protests had confirmed that the North remains a hostile place for nationalists.

“How many times have constitutional nationalists told us the Orange state is no more and that we live in a more tolerant society?” he asked.

“The issue of flags is a smokescreen for the wider sectarianism being waged by unionists.

“Sinn Féin and the SDLP bowed to pressure during a debate in Belfast city council and agreed to let that flag on certain days, including the birthday of the English queen.

“Already in many parts of Belfast unionists are putting up more flags, especially in so-called interfaces.”

He warned that loyalists would be allowed to continue with their disturbances thanks to “their allies in the PSNI”.

“This is in stark contrast to the PSNI response to peaceful marches and protests held by republicans.”

Just after making this statement earlier this week, Mr Mac Coitir was arrested and imprisoned this week by the PSNI. He is currently being held at Maghaberry jail in connection with a peaceful sit-down protest in north Belfast against a sectarian Orange Order parade in July, 2010.

© 2012 Irish Republican News