Third night of loyalist riots, shots fired
A loyalist gunman opened fire tonight in east Belfast as three nights of rioting by the paramilitary UVF escalated. Tonight again saw attacks against both the PSNI police and residents of the nationalist Short Strand enclave.
The PSNI said they had come under fire and arrested a loyalist on suspicion of attempted murder.
While examples of British state forces in the North coming under fire from unionist paramilitaries are extremely rare, the incident marks a potentially significant development in the UVF’s campaign of terror.
There have been paramilitary-orchestrated protests in Belfast since early December when Alliance members on Belfast City Council voted with Sinn Fein and the SDLP to restrict the number of days on which the British union flag flies over City Hall to 15 from 365.
The violence, which stopped over Christmas, began again on Thursday.
Today’s disorder began this afternoon when hundreds of loyalists returning east from a protest at City Hall again attacked nationalist homes in the Short Strand enclave, before turning their firepower on the PSNI. The PSNI turned water cannon against more than 100 loyalists hurling fireworks, smoke bombs and bricks, before gunshots rang out.
Last night saw open street violence on the Lower Newtownards Road, the Beersbridge area and in Newtownabbey areas of Belfast. Missiles including petrol bombs, fireworks, bricks and ball bearings were again thrown at nationalists and the PSNI.
‘PROTECT THE SHORT STRAND’
Local Sinn Fein Councillor Niall O Donnghaile called on the PSNI to ensure that attacks on isolated catholic communities like the Short Strand “masked under the guise of flag protests” are brought to an immediate end.
“There has been some good work done by the PSNI in keeping unionist rioters away from this community but significant mistakes have been made in facilitating illegal protests and marches in East Belfast,” the former Sinn Fein Lord Mayor added.
East Belfast MP Naomi Long described reports that shots had been fired in the vicinity as “deeply disturbing.” The Alliance politician said it was further proof the ongoing protests were becoming inextricably linked with violence.
“This latest rioting, and chilling reports of shots being fired, mark a new low and must be unequivocally condemned. The context for policing them has changed as the protests and violence have become more orchestrated,” she said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also condemned the loyalist violence.
“This is the third successive day of unrest in Belfast,” he said. “These attacks over the past three days are not the mark of legitimate protest but are the actions of a small group who want to bring Northern Ireland back to a darker past”.