Irish Republican News · December 17, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Clashes follow traffic chaos in Belfast


Trouble broke out tonight in several areas after Belfast was again brought to a standstill by groups of loyalists demanding the return of the British flag on Belfast City Hall.

The blockades caused the worst traffic situation in two weeks of protests. Cars were stopped by as few as three or four flag-waving loyalists while the PSNI refused to intervene, infuriating motorists.

As the night wore on, violence erupted on the Sandy Road in Belfast, where hijacked cars were set on fire and fireworks were thrown; and in east Belfast, where 200 loyalists had massed outside the offices of the Alliance Party.

The protests began two weeks ago following the decision of Belfast city council to reduce the flying of the Union Jack.

The cross-community Alliance Party has become a particular target of intimidatory loyalist ‘protests’. Its support for the decision the Union flag to fly above City Hall on only 15 commemorative days triggered the recent trouble. East Belfast MP Naomi Long, who won her Westminster seat from DUP leader Peter Robinson at the last election, has become a particular hate figure for unionists.

While the street actions were clearly coordinated, trouble broke out in an unpredictable manner.

In Carrickfergus, County Antrim, over a hundred shoppers had to be locked into a Tesco store as a loyalist protest erupted into an intense riot.

Clashes were also reported as loyalists attempted incusions into nationalist areas, including the intersection of the loyalist Glenbryn and the nationalist Ardoyne in north Belfast; and in Portadown, where loyalists threw fireworks and other missiles towards the nationalist Garvaghy Road area.

Other areas which saw blockades included the Upper Malone Road, Dundonald, Finaghy Cross, the Dublin Road, the Ormeau Road, the Beersbridge Road, the Cregagh Road, the Donegall Road, the Shore Road, the Limestone Road, and the Crumlin Road in Belfast; Lisburn, Broughshane, Ballyclare and Greenisland in County Antrim; Clough and Bangor in County Down; Coleraine and Campsie, County Derry; and Lurgan, County Armagh.

The Glendermott Road in Derry city was also blocked by 50 loyalists for a period.

The size and nature of the actions varied significantly, with masked men hijacking vehicles to block roads in some areas, while others saw young children involved in small protests.

A joint statement earlier today by DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, calling on the loyalists to end their actions, failed to have any effect.

Traders have warned that the protests are endangering business, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, although shops in nationalist west Belfast were said to be busy.

In a statement, Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly said “Unionism needs to show leadership” to those they represent and “stop retreating to the trenches of sectarian coat-trailing”.

He said there had been a misrepresentation by unionist politicians about “a chipping away at everything British”, which he said needed to be exposed “as the lie that it is”.

“Anyone that walks through the City Hall or indeed the surrounding streets of Belfast will realise that we are coming down with symbols representative of Britain’s past,” he said.

“We had the same nonsense from unionists over the marching season when they described a handful of contentious parades as a conspiracy to stop all Orange marches.

“No mention of the fact that thousands went ahead without any need of determinations from the Parades Commission.

“Belfast is no longer a unionist city and it needs to reflect both Irishness and Britishness with an equality of treatment for each as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.

“Unionists need to get their heads around the fact that Belfast and indeed the North is a new place and will continue to change.”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News