Published on 8 Jan 2013

What’s in a riot? Night brings more trouble to east Belfast

You can hear the man with the loudhailer perfectly clearly, demanding a peaceful and dignified protest.

Outside Belfast City Hall, that’s pretty much what he got.As councillors inside lined up to condemn violence from those unwilling to accept their council’s democratic decision, outside, City Hall was cordoned off by riot police and the Pangolins – white armoured police Land Rovers.

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The riot guys weren’t needed. The marchers were addressed by speakers. They did The Bouncy, a chant beloved of Rangers fans. They sang The Billy Boys about being “up to their knees in Fenian blood” and it was all calm as requested.

OK – so The Billy Boys can now attract potential police attention around Scottish football stadiums – but this is Belfast.

The marchers – several hundred – then left for home. And that means east Belfast, perhaps a mile or so walk across the River Lagan and past the spanking buildings of Laganside and the shiny new post-peace Belfast.

Then it started. The video evidence is clear. As the marchers pass the Nationalist/Republican Short Strand estate, they are pelted with rocks. They scatter in some disarray.

There is a line of police Land Rovers on the southern side of the roads between returning marchers and the Short Strand.  But you see little sign of police response beyond that.

From then on, demonstrators regroup along the Lower Newtownards Road and the disturbances begin.

That said, we’d been told precisely where and when trouble would start here. The police intel was that there would be a concerted riot last night, hours before it began.

As Northern Irish riots go it wasn’t particularly serious. We are not talking about buildings ablaze, vehicles hijacked and burned or sustained petrol bombing.

Sure, there was a small number of petrol bombs with baton rounds fired in return, sometimes after a loud warning to disperse. Water cannon was used – though often as much to hose small burning barricades as actual rioters.

Police officers in control were out there explaining their actions to “community leaders”.

We saw one such “bronze” at work, full riot gear spattered with paint: “Listen – I’m not going to arrest you. I’m trying to work with you.”

This was met with shouts of police brutality and allegations that the police had done nothing to counter the Short Strand attackers: “Listen to me. You know my name. You’ve got my number.”

The officer continues: “Rioting’s a serious offence and we will arrest people. We’ve acted with restraint¬† tonight and my officers have faced a murderous assault.”

Several hundred on the streets and the trouble was all but done well before 10pm. Eight arrests tells you this was hardly armageddon and very much confined to one small part of this city for the reasons outlined in yesterday’s blog.

This is nasty and no doubt a potentially “murderous assault” on a very few one street corners.

But cast your mind back a few years to the Drumcree disturbances for example: vehicles, buildings – even a train – set on fire. Roads blocked across all six counties. An MP only able to get to his office by army helicopter.

Now – five nights in a row in a couple of districts of Belfast. Yet Portadown, Larne, Londonderry – I could go on – all remain quiet.

Flashpoints in central, west and north Belfast equally so.

Perspective and context are all.

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5 reader comments

  1. Brenda says:

    There is no mention of the rioting In East Belfast (Ballybeen) Almost 2 hours before the events at short strand..One has to wonder why?
    Or the rioting in Ballymena on Sunday night in which protestants were stopped by protestants from attending Church service (see the psni.Ballymena facebook page for confirmation).

    1. Jordan says:

      Brenda, the examples you mentioned are two other *isolated* events. What we are talking about here is the portrayal of the world’s media that every street in Northern Ireland is ablaze with petrol bombs, blocked with barricades and full to the brim of rioters.

      It is a call for perspective, the riot areas are generally the same areas where trouble usually kicks off between the usual culprits looking for any excuse to fight each other. Sadly that wont change any time soon as we watched the people involved bringing children out into the scenes, and hence the hate is passed onto another generation (although I must make clear – in those areas and in those like-minded people).

      The people battling and shouting at police on the news are embarrassing themselves and as a result, the whole country. It’s discouraging investors who would ultimately be providing jobs to the people in areas of poor employment rates (see the areas where the riots where occurring). So they are costing themselves and their children of a peaceful and prosperous future and costing the working taxpayer of Northern Ireland over ¬£7m to date in dealing with their mess. I would have rather watched that money go to better schools, roads and healthcare etc, but our country is just a bit backward.

  2. Thomas says:

    Would it not be the Flag of St Patrick (white flag red saltire) that should be flown anyway!that is the part of the Union jack that represents the Kingdom of Ireland. In addition, I’m sure it’s not offense to republicans either as it’s flown on St Patricks day. Surely this is the answer!



  3. arniebhoy says:

    where was the video evidence of rocks and bottles being thrown (supposedly to start the riot) by nationalists? I saw no such evidence on this report!

  4. RodtheFierce says:

    I wouldn’t call injuries to over 100 police officers, death threats to several MLAs and millions of pounds of damage both structurally and economically not being particularly serious. I’m not too sure where this evidence of things being started by the Nationalists is either. Perspective and context? Disappointed.

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