A north Belfast hospital was stormed by a mob of unionist paramilitary supporters after Friday night’s contentious ‘Tour of the North’ march.
The Mater chief executive said that staff, patients and relatives were traumatised by the incident.
After a parade by the Protestant Orange Order ended, a gang of up to 40 supporters of the paramilitary UDA tried to break into the Accident and Emergency department of the Mater Hospital. The attack reportedly followed a dispute with a faction of marchers waving a rival UVF flag.
Hospital staff were forced to lock the patient area after three of the gang managed to get into the hospital. Staff were forced to evacuate 20 patients and their families from the hospital’s emergency area after the UDA gang laid siege to the unit.
A night manager at the Mater said this morning that the attack had been “very frightening” for staff and patients.
“About 10pm last night a group of youths who had been following the parade came running through the main reception area,” she said.
“They tried to get through to the main patient area, but we have a good security system here and we were able to get the place locked up very quickly.”
The hospital had to be locked up for the remainder of the night.
The controversial march through sectarian interface areas in Belfast is held every two years. Orangemen were again criticised for allowing paramilitary symbols and paraphernalia to be displayed during the march and ‘coat-trailed’ before netionalist residents.
North Belfast Sinn Féin assembly member Kathy Stanton accused the mob of attacking one of society’s most vulnerable targets.
“This, however, is not surprising. It follows yet another march where there were clearly UDA and UVF flags on display,” she said
“A large number of supporters could be seen drinking during the march, while serious sectarian abuse, including the hurling of missiles, was directed at nationalist residents.”
The Orange Order Grand Master for Belfast Dawson Bailie condemned Friday night’s attack.
“Those people who were involved in that we want nothing whatsoever to do with them.”
In related news, Orangemen were banned from marching on the Springfield Road in west Belfast this weekend.
In its ruling, the Parades Commission said there had been “multiple violations” by the Order during last year’s parade.
The commission highlighted the fact that while community leaders on both sides were engaged in talks to diffuse tensions, the Order had refused to engage in talks with anyone, including the commission itself.
Nationalist residents’ spokesman Sean Murray said it was only right.
“Year after year we have presented the commission with overwhelming evidence that this parade was sectarian and triumphalist in nature.”
However, Mr Murray said the parade could have marched along the Springfield Road, if Orangemen had entered into talks with nationalists.
“Year after year we have offered talks with the Order,” he said.
“We have repeatedly suggested compromise, but every one of those compromises were turned down by parade organisers.
“Those offers are still on the table for the Orange Order and all they have to do is come and talk to us.”