Nationalist residents of west Belfast’s Springfield Road were subjected to hours of unionist intimidation and threats on Saturday as the PSNI police stood by.
The claims came after Orangemen and bandsmen held a protest on the Springfield Road in protest at the Parades Commission’s decision not to permit an Orange Order parade to march via Workman Avenue onto the Springfield Road.
The march was instead rerouted through Mackies Industrial Estate.
On Saturday afternoon, a 500-strong mob of Orangment and loyalist supporters made its way up the Springfield Road and stopped for almost two hours outside the nationalist cul-de-sac of Watermouth Crescent. The mob verbally abused residents and threatened to return later that night to burn them out of their homes.
The six PSNI members were present, who were described by residents as ‘leaning against the wall’, did not intervene.
The mob then staged a sit-down blockade and played loyalist tunes for two hours while Orangemen hurled abuse.
Sean Paul O’Hare, spokesman for the Springfield Residents Action Group, said the Orangemen and loyalists had tried their best to provoke residents into a violent response.
“They were calling us Fenian Bs and told us they would be back to burn us out later that night,” one resident said.
“The music was deafening and there were loyalist paramilitary flags being waved, which was also a breach of conduct.
“At one point, they had the pikes they carry in a position as though they were going to charge us.
“It was then the policemen moved in between us but, rather than push the Orangemen back onto the street, they pushed the residents further into the cul-de-sac. We had no protection whatsoever,” said the resident.
Elsewhere in Belfast, nationalists living on the Grosvenor Road were left to ponder their options when faced with a 200-strong mob of loyalists advancing over the Westlink Bridge.
The crowd caused traffic chaos on the Westlink, a major artery in the city.
Sinn Féin’s Fra McCann said it was a “disgrace” that so many loyalists had made it so far up the road without being intercepted by the PSNI.
“These people came a far enough distance. They had to cut across the Westlink on a busy Saturday afternoon to get to the Grosvenor Road. Even more importantly, they had to pass the heavily fortified Grosvenor Road barracks. It’s a disgrace that they were able to do so.”
Councillor McCann said many locals feared a repeat of Bombay Street in 1969 when Catholics were burnt out of their homes by loyalists.
“This mob was making threats, telling the residents that they were gong to be burnt out. They were throwing missiles, shouting sectarian abuse. They smashed a car windscreen and were doing their best to get to a statue of Our Lady that was in the garden of a house in Devonshire Street,” said Councillor McCann.
It wasn’t until people heard the mob and came out of their homes and local shops to defend themselves that the crowd finally retreated back across the Westlink.
“The young people of this area must be commended for their efforts in chasing this mob from the road. This was an orchestrated attack which saw loyalists clearly try to provoke nationalists into a riot situation but our appeals for calm and restraint were heard and nationalists refused to get involved.”
In east Belfast, a dozen loyalists viciously attacked a Catholic man near his home in the early hours of Saturday morning.
John McKay (29) was set upon on his way home from helping to raise funds for the Justice for Robert McCartney Campaign.
He is recovering in hospital after being discovered lying in a walkway at the junction of Albert Bridge Road and the nationalist Short Strand area at around 2am.
He was kicked and beaten unconscious by the mob who were seen running up the Ravenhill Road. The attackers were described as being tanned and wearing peach, pink and orange T-shirts.
Later, hand-to-hand fighting broke out as nationalist residents were forced to defend their community from another large mob of loyalists.
Petrol bombs were thrown at the Strand Walk area and shots were fired along Albert Bridge Road as loyalists appeared determined to provoke residents living nearby.
Hours of rioting left the area strewn with wreckage and debris in scenes from the worst of the conflict.
As the night wore on, a mechanical digger was hijacked and used to rob a cashpoint machine from a filling station before being used to level every road sign, traffic light and bus stop for hundreds of metres.