PSNI force cancellation of soccer derby
The PSNI police combined with loyalists to force the postponement of a key Belfast soccer match last weekend.
Loyalist protestors draped in Union Jack flags briefly clashed with the PSNI outside Crusaders’ home ground, Seaview, in north Belfast, before the match against Cliftonville was called off.
Among those involved was notorious hardline loyalist Willie Frazer, while leading UVF paramilitaries form east Belfast were also observed to be in attendance.
A DUP statement said one of the party’s councillors had been struck by the PSNI amid the disorder. It blamed Cliftonville fans (who are generally from the nationalist community) for “behaving badly and offensively towards local residents”.
The PSNI said they asked the loyalists to move after 40 minutes, to allow fans to enter the stadium.
“Despite intensive efforts by police and football officials to negotiate a peaceful outcome, the protest did not move and as a consequence police had to move the protest to ensure the safety of fans and allow the match to proceed,” a statement read.
But the PSNI was accused of weakness in allowing the small band of embittered loyalists to disrupt an important sporting fixture.
Both clubs had made it clear that they wished to proceed, and both sets of supporters -- normally associated with different communities -- had mingled together in a spontaneous act of solidarity.
Sinn Féin’s Caral Ni Chuilin said it was “particularly disappointing” that the game had been called off “for reasons totally unconnected with sport”.
“The flag protest which forced the cancellation of this match has nothing to do with football,” she said.
Disturbances also closed the M3 motorway for more than an hour on the same day following the weekly loyalist march to Belfast City Hall.
It was the 11th consecutive Saturday on which a flags rally had taken place at the city council headquarters. Protesters again paraded there from east Belfast and back again afterwards, without the permission of the Parades Commission.
Addressing the crowd of around 200 -- down from 2000 at its height -- protest leader Jamie Bryson said he would “borrow a phrase” from Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
“We haven’t gone away you know. No surrender.”
“For 11 weeks people have tried everything to destroy these protests but there’s still hundreds of people standing here,” he said.
“They have not won. We are not defeated. Adolf Hitler had a million followers. Jesus only had 12.
“It doesn’t matter how many are here. If there are two of us standing here, we’ll still be standing.”
Other loyalist protests across the north saw violence in Garvagh, County Derry, where a demonstration was described as “a night of shame”.
A brick was thrown at a nurse’s car as she drove to work through the village on Friday night.
Sinn Féin assembly member Cathal O hOisin called for more to be done to protect the public.
“While I recognise the right to peaceful protest it is clear that many of these flag protests have been illegal or had violence and intimidation associated with them,” he said.
SDLP Assembly member John Dallat said the demonstration was “an affront to humanity”.
“These so-called protesters had their faces covered either with scarves or hoods, making it impossible to identify who they were, and that raises serious questions as to the legality of these so-called flag protests,” he said.
“I don’t know of anywhere in the free world where this kind of beastly behaviour would be accepted or listened to.”