Loyalists target St Patrick’s Day events
Loyalist ‘flag protestors’ set upon St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Belfast city on Sunday evening before engaging in a full-blown riot.
The trouble began when a group of masked loyalist youths blocked the road near intersection of the Donegall Road at Shaftesbury Square. The area was crowded with people who had been enjoying the parade and the Bank Holiday weekend festivities.
Apparently outraged by the St Patrick’s Day entertainments, the flag-waving loyalist mob burned bins on the road before throwing bricks and bottles at the PSNI police. One member of the PSNI was injured in the disorder, which continued for more than two hours.
There have been dozens of violent clashes recently involving militant unionists angered by a decision of Belfast city councillors to limit the flying of the British Union Jack at City Hall to 18 designated days each year. Sunday’s clashes took place despite Belfast City Hall flying the British flag for St Patrick’s Day alongside the cross of St Patrick.
Unionist councillor Ruth Patterson bizarrely claimed that the loyalists had attempted to hold a peaceful protest outside a city centre bar but that those celebrating St Patrick’s Day inside had “taunted” them.
“There seems to be a one-sided agenda at the moment with the PSNI and that is most certainly to come down very heavily on flag protestors while others get away with everything,” she added.
Despite the cold, thousands lined the Belfast streets for a short but spectacular carnival parade to mark St Patrick’s Day, with dancers, acrobats and musicians.
It was one of hundreds of parades around Ireland to mark the patron saint’s day.
Dublin’s more famous parade was headed by a group of tourists as part of ‘the Gathering’ programme. A giant Irish-knit jumper and the world’s biggest raggy doll were among the floats which were paraded through the capital’s streets.
In Omagh, the annual parade had to be rerouted after loyalists hoisted Union Jacks along part of the planned parade route in an intimidatory manner.
The decision to change the parade route was taken at an emergency council meeting just hours before the event was due to begin.
Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Begley said the failure of unionist representatives to have the flags removed had ruined a plan for an inclusive, cross-community event.
“We made the case that the huge number of flags makes the environment uncomfortable for many nationalists and completely undermines the council’s policy of neutrality,” he said.
“It is highly frustrating that unionists like to talk about cultural equality but when it comes to actually showing leadership they fail miserably.”