Saturday 24 February 2018

WATCH: Republican youths attempt to burn Union flag during standoff in Belfast

Riot police deployed as tensions rise in standoff at north Belfast Ardoyne flashpoint

Deborah McAleese

Crowds of loyalists and republicans were separated by riot police last night during a tense standoff in north Belfast.

CS gas was deployed by officers as tensions rose just hours after a contentious Orange Order parade passed off peacefully.

Attempts were made by a group of republicans to burn a Union flag and throw it on a PSNI Land Rover at the Ardoyne shop fronts.

Some bottles and stones were thrown towards the loyalist protest camp at Twaddell Avenue and at police lines.

Republican youths attempt to burn a Union flag
Republican youths attempt to burn a Union flag

The road was later reopened and the police operation wound down without major incident.

Earlier, the most contentious parade of Northern Ireland's marching season had passed off peacefully for the first time in several years.

Police had erected metal barriers along Woodvale Road where, for the fourth year running, the Parades Commission ruled marchers had to stop.

Three Orange Order lodges were due to march to Woodvale Road, although Ballysillan Lodge was the only one to arrive.

The Order told the BBC the other two lodges broke up before the barrier, as they were outside the 8.30pm deadline set for dispersal by the Parades Commission.

Ballysillan Lodge had been opposed to attempts between loyalists and republicans to reach a deal to end the parading dispute. They handed a letter of protest, addressed to the Secretary of State, to police at the barrier.

The Orangemen quietly left the area at 8.30pm, as determined by the Parades Commission.

A short time later a group of loyalist youths walked up the Crumlin Road wrapped in Union flags, sparking angry jeers from crowds of republicans.

Dozens of police Land Rovers quickly moved in to separate both sides.

The standoff between both sides continued for several hours. At one point a group of republican youths attempted to set fire to two Union flags but they failed to light.

Officers remove barriers as The contentious orange order parade gathers at the stopping point on the Woodvale road during July 12th celebrations in Belfast , 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Officers remove barriers as The contentious orange order parade gathers at the stopping point on the Woodvale road during July 12th celebrations in Belfast , 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)

Riot police moved in as they received information that some youths had begun to gather missiles. Yesterday morning there was a mood of optimism when the initial parade passed off peacefully on its way to join the larger Belfast Orange demonstration.

There was a heavy police presence, but there was no hint of violence. However, there was still clearly anger within sections of the republican and nationalist community. Around 50 residents joined a protest organised by Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective (GARC), which recently rejected a deal to resolve the parading dispute. They shouted "walk of shame" as the parade passed.

They also jeered Chief Constable George Hamilton who visited officers in the area before the parade began. Several protesters shouted "you're not welcome in this area" when they saw Mr Hamilton on the road.

Further up the Crumlin Road members of the Crumlin Ardoyne Residents' Association (CARA), who were involved in the talks in a bid to broker a deal to end the impasse, held a silent protest.

They displayed a banner that stated 'Resolution is possible'.

Following the outward march Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said that the Eleventh Night going into the Twelfth was one of the quietest he could remember.

Despite last night's standoff the situation was in stark contrast to last year when 24 police officers were injured, including several attempting to rescue a girl from underneath a car.

One officer needed 16 stitches after being bitten on the hand during several hours of rioting in the Crumlin Road and Woodvale Road areas. Baton rounds were fired and water cannon used to quell the trouble, which rumbled on into the early hours of the morning.

Belfast Telegraph

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