A police commander has said he deeply regrets that children came into contact with CS spray used by officers reacting to disturbances at a loyal order parade.
The Police Ombudsman complaints watchdog is investigating the circumstances in which the spray was deployed during an altercation at the end of the parade involving junior members of the Orange Order in south Belfast on Tuesday evening.
Police said two officers were injured and damage was caused to a police motorcycle when adult participants in the parade attacked them on the Ormeau Road.
Parade organisers claim police over-reacted and criticised the use of CS spray in an area where children were present. They have said a number of children developed swollen lips and eyes after coming into contact with the spray.
Chief Superintendent Chris Noble insisted the incapacitation spray was only directed at those assaulting his officers.
He added: "Any subsequent contact any children or young people had with CS spray particles is deeply regretted."
Mr Noble said trouble flared when two neighbourhood officers escorting the parade tried to prevent cars being damaged by passing participants.
"Just after 5.10pm, police spoke with parade organisers about some band members who were walking in amongst parked cars and traffic," he said.
"A police officer then asked the band members to step back but they simply disregarded his requests.
"At that point one of the officers tried to move bandsmen away from brushing against parked cars when he came under attack by a section of the band.
"The other officer got off his motorcycle to assist his colleague when he was also attacked and the police motorbike damaged.
"Due to the number of people attacking the officers, they defended themselves with their batons. CS incapacitant spray was directed only on the people attacking them and the incident was brought under control. The two officers received minor injuries."
A 26-year-old man was arrested and later charged with disorderly behaviour and two counts of assaulting police.
Mr Noble said the use of CS spray was "tightly scrutinised" and officers used their "judgment" as to when it was required.
"After a busy day of successful and peaceful events across Belfast, unfortunately an incident towards the end of the day, which could have been avoided had some bandsmen followed police directions, has become the news headline," he said.
The senior officer added: "Senior colleagues were in communication with community representatives and politicians last night following the incident and I would be happy to meet with any band members, organisers or anyone in the local community who have concerns about this incident in the days ahead."
A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman's office appealed for any witnesses to come forward.
"We were notified by police about the use of CS spray during an incident on the Ormeau Road yesterday and have since received a number of complaints about what happened," he said.
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said she had spoken with Chief Constable George Hamilton about the incident.
Ulster Unionist representative Rodney McCune said the use of CS gas raised serious questions about the PSNI's judgment.
"Deploying CS gas is far from a conventional or proportionate way to respond to suspected criminal damage," he said.