SIXTEEN POLICE OFFICERS have been injured during serious clashes between loyalists and nationalists in Belfast this afternoon.
PSNI officers used a water cannon and fired four Attenuating Energy Projectiles (AEP) rounds in a bid to break up the unrest. Police have advised members of the public to avoid parts of east Belfast as the disorder continues into the evening.
Two of the officers have been taken to hospital for treatment for their injuries.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has said the violence in Northern Ireland is being orchestrated by “known criminals” who are intent on creating chaos.
In a strong statement, the Tánaiste said loyalists are taking advantage of earlier protests around the flying of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall.
“This has nothing to do with real issues around flags and identity in a shared society which are the subject of intensive political discussions at present,” Eamon Gilmore said in a statement. He said:
This violence is being orchestrated and those behind it are known criminals intent on creating chaos.
Petrol bombs, masonry and other missiles were thrown at PSNI officers last night. Aside from a brief lull over Christmas, protests have been ongoing almost every night since 2 December when Belfast City Council voted to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies over the City Hall building.
A campaign by businesses in Belfast to encourage people to go to a local pub or restaurant and ignore the protests and disruption was trending on Twitter last night.
The Tánaiste has spoken with First Minister Peter Robinson, Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the leaders of all the political parties in recent days.
He is due to meet the Secretary of State and the First and Deputy First Minister next week to review developments.
All photos: Paul Faith/PA Wire