THE COURAGE OF PSNI officers in dealing with loyalist rioting in Belfast city centre last night was praised earlier today.
At a press conference, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot said that a total of 56 officers were injured during the serious disturbances in Belfast overnight.
The disorder began when police attempted to block part of the route for the Anti-Internment League parade.
Baggot condemned the riot, saying that intense violence was directed at his colleagues “who were there to uphold the law and keep people safe”.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott speaking at press conference at PSNI headquarters in Belfast. Pic: David Young/PA Wire
Constable Baggot said that he knows “the majority of the population will stand with me in condemning those who scarred the reputation of our beautiful city last night”.
Those people had no intention of peaceful protest. They lack self respect and they lack dignity. Bizarrely many parts of the city continued to show the friendship, the welcome and the hope so evident over the past number of days in relation to the WPFG while a few streets over we saw what I can only describe as a mindless anarchy.
He commended his colleagues for their “immense courage”, saying: “I have no doubt whatsoever that they prevented that anarchy from spreading and without that courage lives could have been lost”.
I visited colleagues in hospital last night, those who were receiving treatment and passed on not only my best wishes but I’m sure those shared by the vast majority of people across Northern Ireland.
Seven arrests were made last night and more will follow, he said.
There’s plenty of evidence of what happened last night and I have no doubt whatsoever that significant custodial sentences will be handed down and prisons will be bulging. The only voices we should hear now are those unequivocally condemning the violence and supporting fully the actions of police and rule of law. I don’t want to hear any excuses for the disgraceful scenes that took place last night because quite frankly there aren’t any.
Police clash with loyalist protestors in Belfast city centre as an Anti Agreement republicans march tonight. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, Gold Commander for last night’s policing operation, said there were significant numbers of people involved in the disorder.
He said they saw people gathering from around half past five yesterday evening in Royal Avenue. “There was absolutely no organisation, no coordination and no leadership around any of those protests,” said Constable Hamilton. “We saw numbers swell to around 1200 people and it was evident that many of them had violent intent.”
There was no attempt whatsoever that we could see of any organised or coordinated protest activity in line with that which had been notified to the Parades Commission.
The parade had made its way down onto North Queen Street where police asked it to stop, the constables said. It stopped for about 25 minutes so police could finish clearing Royal Avenue., but when the PSNI “were almost at the point of Royal Avenue being cleared of protesters to allow the parade to go through”, the parade organisers “decided to take a different route avoiding Royal Avenue”, said Hamilton.
He said that the police did not reroute the parade away from Royal Avenue.
The police said that weapons and equipment that were used against them included scaffolding and masonry.
People were pulling up the paving stones from the busiest shopping precinct in Belfast, destroying our city and taking that masonry and throwing it at police officers who put their lives on the line to try and keep people safe.
The protest was described as “sheer thuggery”.
There were several feeder parades across Northern Ireland today which passed peacefully.
The PSNI constables concluded their statement today by calling upon anyone with any influence “to stand up and be counted, to show some leadership around what is a difficult set of circumstances for us”.
First published 1.30pm