NORTHERN Ireland’s first minister has warned that the violence which erupted in Belfast after a controversial vote on the Union flag was unacceptable.
• Violence that erupted after a controversial vote by councillors in Belfast has been condemned as unacceptable
• Clashes broke out after a vote was cast to remove the Union flag from a council building for the first time in over 100 years
• FM Peter Robinson: “There is no excuse or justification for attacks on police officers, council staff, and property”
Fifteen police officers, two security workers and a press photographer were injured when a mob of up to 1,000 loyalists rioted in the city centre and parts of east Belfast.
At the height of the trouble, police officers were pelted with bricks, bottles and fireworks and a large crowd tried to smash their way into City Hall.
They broke through barriers and forced their way through iron gates at the rear of the building before assaulting council security staff and attacking cars.
First Minister Peter Robinson said: “There is no excuse or justification for attacks on police officers, council staff, and property. Such behaviour is not representative of those who campaigned to maintain the Union flag flying over Belfast City Hall.”
At one point, loyalists, who used scarves to hide their identity, also tried to kick down the back door to gain entry to City Hall.
The DUP leader said the proposal to change the council’s flag-flying policy was provocative.
He added: “The decision to pursue the removal of the flag from City Hall and other council buildings, despite warnings of the likely consequential impact on community relations, was foolish and provocative. Those who talk most about building community relations have by their actions in the council substantially damaged relations across the city.”
Later, the mob attacked St Matthew’s Catholic Church in the nationalist Short Strand area of east Belfast and clashed with police in Albertbridge Road and Templemore Avenue. It is understood a bus was also hijacked.
Trouble broke out minutes after Belfast city councillors voted to remove the flag from City Hall. It is due to be taken down later for the first time since the Edwardian building opened in 1906.
Councillors agreed by 29 votes to 21 with a motion which would bring City Hall into line with Stormont and other Government buildings for the flag to be flown on 17 designated days.