Friday 19 January 2018

Bus driver hurt in new flag clashes

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the Police Service of Northern Ireland had to put 'public safety first'
Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the Police Service of Northern Ireland had to put 'public safety first'
A peace protester at Belfast City Hall, in response to the continuing loyalist flag violence
Loyalists protesters during a city centre flag protest in Belfast

A driver was injured when rioting loyalists hijacked two buses as violence returned to the streets of east Belfast.

Police were attacked with stones and bottles on Monday night and petrol bombs were thrown at houses and a church in the neighbouring Catholic Short Strand district where people attending a special needs meeting fled in terror.

The bus driver was believed to have been hurt by flying glass when a brick was thrown through his window in the lower Newtownards Road area. He was taken to hospital for treatment for cuts to his face, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Police used water cannon to help restore order, and one officer was injured. Bomb disposal experts also carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious object in Bradley Way, Strabane.

A 17-year-old boy was arrested, and two men aged 70 and 26 were detained in a separate incident connected to disorder which followed a flag protest in the Great Victoria Street area.

Trouble in Belfast flared just hours after the Chief Constable Matt Baggott and politicians on all sides appealed for calm. Business leaders also warned of the disastrous impact on trade.

A number of roads were blocked for a time on Monday. Some motorists held up in long tailbacks complained that police failed to take tougher action to clear masked demonstrators waving flags. Bus services in the east of the city were also suspended immediately after the hijackings and just before loyalists attacked houses and St Matthews Catholic Church in the Short Strand. Nobody was hurt, but neighbours claimed frightened people attending a special needs meeting in an adjoining parochial hall had to run for cover.

A major conference of teachers planned for the city next November has been cancelled because of the continuing disorder - now in its seventh week - in protest at a decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag above City Hall.

Conall McDevitt, an SDLP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and city councillor who voted for the flag to be lowered, said it was an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack on people's homes and a place of worship, and there could be no explanation for such depraved acts of violence. He said: "This behaviour is as sickening now as it was when it first started - and more so, because the perpetrators know that they have no legitimacy and waning support. This is not a cause - this is simply the worst depths of human nature run amok."

Earlier, senior police and politicians united in their demands for an end to the violent protests. The First Minister Peter Robinson branded rioters the enemies of democracy and claimed they were being exploited by elements seeking to wreck the peace process. "You do not respect a Union flag if you are using it as a weapon to charge against someone," he said. "You are not showing respect for the Union flag if you need to wear a mask when carrying it. For many the issue of the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Council is now a cynical cover for the real political agenda which is to destroy the political process."

Press Association

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