By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Belfast faced its fifth night of rioting following protests over the Belfast City Council’s decision to stop a century-old tradition of flying the Union Jack flag year-round. Instead, the City Council decided to limit the number of days the union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.
Almost a thousand protesters picketed Belfast City Hall when the City Council met for the first time since passing the controversial motion in December. The protestors demanded that the council reverse its ruling over the flag.
The most recent protest began peacefully, however, the violent riot started when hundreds of protesters passed the Short Strand on their return to east Belfast. Multiple Nationalists threw numerous missiles as the protestors passed.
As a result, police fired plastic bullets and water cannons in an effort to separate republican and protestant groups. Loyalist protestors set up a barricade in the middle of the road and set it on fire. In addition, the police were also notified of two attempted hijackings in the area.
During the recent riot, two males and two females were arrested and accused of rioting and public order violations. Since the various protests began, 96 people were arrested, and at least 52 officers were hurt. Furthermore, since December, multiple elected representatives received death threats.
The Chief Constable for the Police Service of Northern Island believes the violence is at the fault of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force members. The British flag has been the subject of a longstanding disagreement between British loyalists and Irish nationalists.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott said, “Everyone involved needs to step back. The lack of control is very worrying. The only answer is a political solution.”
Also, Baggott expressed concern over the number of children that have taken part in the riots. He stated that numerous children were “without parental control” and risked “blighting their own future”.
He states, “At a time when we are working desperately hard with the tourist board, investment agencies, foreign investors, to present the right picture of Northern Ireland as a place that’s worthy of investment, many of those young people who may benefit from that will now have convictions.”
Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, stated, “If this is the chief constable’s assessment, then what I am saying to people in east Belfast, people belonging to the UVF, please desist from being involved in violence.”
For further information, please see:
IrishTimes – Violence continues in Belfast as flags dispute shoes no sign of abating – 8 January 2013
The Independent – Fifth night of flag rioting hits Belfast – 8 January 2013
BBCNews – Belfast flag trouble: Plastic bullets fired at protestors – 7 January 2013
CNN – Police: Extremist group ‘orchestrating violence’ in Belfast over Union Jack – 7 January 2013