The north of Ireland saw some of the worse violence in recent years as unionist paramilitaries hit back at a first step by authorities against their towering and toxic ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires.
A number of vehicles were hijacked and burnt out and a bomb was thrown into the nationalist Short Strand, narrowly missing a young family. Other bomb alerts prompted the closure of main roads, with one incident closing the route out of Belfast City Airport.
Masked men also used burning cars to block roads close to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on the outskirts of Belfast, while a bus with passengers on board was hijacked before being set alight in nearby Newtownards.
The PSNI police said it was aware the UVF were planning to “orchestrate and participate in serious disorder” in east Belfast.
For over a decade loyalist paramilitaries have received peace funds and government grants connected to their bonfires, with the support of both Sinn Fein and the DUP. The funds were intended to convince the paramilitaries to develop their bonfires into cultural events and ‘family fun’ events, without success.
On Tuesday evening, a High Court judge in Belfast had ordered that the Bloomfield Walkway bonfire in the east of the city be reduced in height. Authorities then took the surprise decision to remove a large pile of toxic tyres near homes at Cluan Place.
They were just two of the hundreds of ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires lit across the Six Counties to mark the anniversary of a Protestant battle victory over Catholics in 1690, and ahead of hundreds of sectarian parades across the North. Most of the pyres carried the usual expressions of sectarian hate -- Irish tricolour and republican flags, Sinn Fein and SDLP posters, but also EU and Palestinian flags.
One bonfire in Highfield, West Belfast carried a banner which read ‘F*ck your Ballymurphy massacre inquiry’, in response to a justice campaign for eleven innocent nationalists who were killed by British soldiers in 1971, an atrocity for which the UVF has recently claimed a role.
It also carried abbreviated messages to ‘Kill All Taigs [Catholics] and ‘All Taigs [Catholics] are Targets’.
Following the court order, the PSNI moved into east Belfast early on Wednesday morning, but a loyalist gang set the Bloomfield structure alight before any material could be seized.
The Cluan Place bonfire built beside homes elsewhere in east Belfast was cleared later on Wednesday, with PSNI escorting masked contractors hired to do the job.
It was during that stand-off tht there was a loud explosion on the other side of the ‘peace line’ in the Short Strand. Mother of four Louise McCann said the device landed outside the door of her car at Clandeboye Drive, and her two children had been moments away from being killed.
By late evening it was clear the UVF had issued instructions for major disorder.
In Newtownards, County Down, a bus carrying passengers was hijacked by armed and masked loyalists. The bus was hijacked and set on fire, while a nearby road was set on fire.
On the Upper Newtownards Road in Dundonald a number of masked loyalists pushed a car into the road and set it on fire. A further two cars were set on fire close to the nearby Carrowreagh Road. Both roads are close to the Ulster Hospital, where patients suffered from smoke inhalation.
Other alerts forced the closure of the Sydenham bypass dual carriageway to the airport and a large section of the Newtownards Road, one of the main roads in the east of Belfast.
In April this year, the UVF spoofed national and international media with a claim issued to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Good Friday peace Agreement that it would “fully support the rule of law”.