Recriminations have followed an outbreak of trouble which followed Saturday’s parade through the heart of nationalist Derry by the loyalist Apprentice Boys organisation.
The incident began when the PSNI police confronted about fifty republican protesters in Shipquay Street, between the republican Bogside area and the Diamond in the city centre, where the parade was due to take place.
Tensions had been predicted the night before, when an unknown group, thought to be loyalists, briefly attacked an anti-internment protest camp at the famous Free Derry Corner, removing flags and banners, and forcing it to be abandoned. The Apprentice Boys’ Memorial Hall in the area was also hit by a petrol bomb at some point over the weekend.
A protest for the political prisoners began before the parade at around 2pm, involving members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and the Republican Network for Unity. Several prominent local republicans, including local election candidate Gary Donnelly, took part in the fortnightly protest.
Some of the protesters chanted “SS RUC” and held placards which said ‘Support the PoWs’.
There was an air of tension as the PSNI confronted the protesters’ small white-line protest along the roadside as the parade was due to pass.
Several dozen police officers, including many Tactical Support Group officers, started to push forward in an attempt to push the protesters down Shipquay Street into the Bogside. The demonstrators chanted ‘peaceful protest’ in response.
A number of scuffles then broke out as the PSNI tried to keep pushing forward and the protest organisers tried to keep the demonstrators calm.
At that stage a large number of PSNI riot police with shields and batons became involved, while special PSNI camera units filmed the protest and took photographs of those involved.
Tension mounted further as the heavily outnumbered protestors were charges down into the Bogside, where they were pursued by a phalanx of armoured vehicles.
The arrival of the PSNI vehicles into the Bogside then triggered a violent confrontation with local youths, who fired a battery of petrol bombs at the PSNI landrovers in images which quickly became international news. Three hijacked vehicles were used to form burning barricades on the local access routes and a full-blown riot ensued.
PSNI claims that a pipe bomb was thrown could not be verified, while another report that a woman and her daughter were “pulled” from their car was also unconfirmed. There were six arrests following the trouble, which continued sporadically into the night.
The North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness blasted those involved in the riot.
“What we witnessed in Derry was completely unacceptable,” he said. “I challenge those who were behind this violence to come out and try and defend the incidents that occurred in our city,.
“Let them stand over a mother and daughter being dragged from a car in Creggan and other people’s livelihoods being destroyed with work vans being burnt.”
He said the petrol bomb attack on the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall was “entirely sectarian” and went against “everything about Irish republicanism”.
Gary Donnelly, a leading member of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement in Derry, blamed heavy-handed police actions for starting the trouble. He said events had been peaceful until the PSNI gave the order to push back the white-line protest.
“There was a very heavy police presence,” he said, and there had been a determined effort by the PSNI to link any trouble to the anti-internment protest taking place at Free Derry Corner in the Bogside.
“Police kept circling our camp [at Free Derry Corner] and we think that was an attempt to put the focus on the camp. The young people responded by throwing petrol bombs at the PSNI.”
He added out the “vast majority of people” in Derry did not want the Apprentice Boys parade taking place through the city.