Five police officers and photographer hurt after council votes to reduce number of days Union flag will be flown at city hall
Five police officers and a press photographer have been injured after a riot erupted in the grounds of Belfast city hall over the council voting in favour of reducing the number of days the Union flag will be flown there.
Loyalist demonstrators broke through a security cordon on Monday night and tried to enter the council chamber as they threw golf balls and bottles.
One police officer was injured on the hand and another female officer hurt as loyalists smashed up cars belonging to councillors, including that of a Democratic Unionist, and attacked security staff.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had to call in its riot squad and deploy dogs to chase the loyalists out of the council chamber.
Up to 1,000 protesters had been demonstrating outside the city hall when the council voted for an Alliance party compromise motion that would mean the union flag being flown on only 15 designated days throughout the year.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP had previously called for no flag to be flown on the dome of the 19th-century Victorian building. Until Monday night the Union flag flew from the dome 365 days a year.
The violence led to the temporary suspension of the council’s monthly meeting with some staff at one stage locked in rooms to ensure their safety.
Later it emerged that local AP photographer Peter Morrison has been treated for a serious head injury after getting caught up in the violence between demonstrators and the police outside.
Tensions were high in the city on Monday night with reports that some of the loyalist demonstrators returning to east Belfast had attacked St Matthews Chapel as well as homes in the Catholic enclave of Short Strand. The violence underlines the sectarian bitterness just under the surface across Belfast and large parts of Northern Ireland despite power-sharing and the peace process.
Alliance party Belfast councillor Laura McNamee condemned the violence and blamed the unionist parties for stoking up trouble by allegedly encouraging angry crowds out on to the streets.
She said: “The DUP and UUP have encouraged people to come out and protest tonight, yet as soon as they lose control of the situation they look for someone else to blame as they attempt to wash their hands of any involvement.
“They cannot ignore their involvement in the council being brought to a complete lockdown tonight. Through their continued campaign of harassment against the Alliance party they have stirred up Unionist fears for their own political gain. A number of Alliance councillors and staff members – myself included – have been subjected to serious threats in the past few weeks.”