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Image: Peter Morrison/AP/Press Association Images

'No excuse for vandalism and thuggery' - PSNI

Police in Northern Ireland have arrested three people in relation to last night’s violence.
Dec 4th 2012, 2:10 PM 3,804 27

POLICE IN NORTHERN Ireland have condemned those who resorted to violence during a protest outside Belfast City Hall last night, branding the disorder a ‘complete disgrace’.

A 1,500-strong group of Unionists demonstrated while the city council voted in favour of reducing the number of days the Union flag is flown outside the city hall.

Speaking at a press briefing this afternoon, PSNI Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said that a “small element” of the crowd turned violent after the vote.

“Neighbourhood officers who had been positioned outside the gates of City Hall were attacked and these officers were then replaced with riot police who were located a short distance away on the other side of the road,” he explained. “Officers had also been positioned inside the quadrant area at the back of City Hall to prevent those individuals who breached the gates from entering the building.”

During the hour-long clashes, 15 officers were injured. Two required treatment in hospital. There were also reports that two security personnel were injured and Associated Press photographer Peter Morrison suffered a gash to the head and a broken finger.

“There is no excuse for vandalism or thuggery in a democratic society,” continued McCrum. “People have the right to lawful protest, but democracy has a right to be protected.

“This is not the imagery that Belfast needs at a time when economic conditions are so difficult and this is not what the image the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want portrayed.”

The PSNI was criticised in the wake of the riots by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly, who said it had mounted an incompetent security operation.

McCrum disagreed. He said an operation to facilitate a peaceful protest was implemented.

“A diverse crowd, of up to 1,500 at the peak of the protest, consisting of men, women, young people, mother’s with children in buggies and wheelchair users gathered at the back of City Hall.

“Police had no definitive intelligence to suggest that there would be any violence and given the diversity of the people protesting, the operation had to be managed very carefully.”

Belfast City Hall with the Union flag removed from the flag pole at the front of the building. (Image: Paul Faith/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Investigation ongoing

Police continue to investigate the circumstances of last night’s disturbances and three men have been arrested.

An 18-year-old was detained in the Clandeboye Street area on suspicion of riotous behaviour and possessing a petrol bomb. Separately, a 22-year-old was arrested in the Donegal Square area in connection with alleged assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault and committing a provocative act.

Another teenager, aged 17, is being questioned on suspicion of riotous assembly in the Albertbridge Road area.

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Violence spread further east after crowds were dispersed from city hall.

At about 10.30pm, police received a report of an attempt to hijack a double-decker bus in the same area. Officers were deployed and the vehicle was retrieved.

Another incident occurred at St Matthew’s Church on the Lower Newtownards Road, where police were also present.

Bottles and missles were also thrown in the Strand Walk area, causing damage to a number of homes.

“I can assure the community that we are totally committed to bringing those responsible for the violence to justice,” concluded McCrum.

Council members voted 29-21 to remove the Union flag from City Hall’s dome  for all but 17 designated days each year. The British flag has flown continuously for more than a century but the change brings the policy in line with what happens at Stormont, where the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive meets.

PHOTOS: 14 police officers injured in Belfast protests over Union flag

Pics: Protests in Belfast as council votes to restrict flying of Union flag

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Sinead O'Carroll


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