Threat made against Belfast councillor

Tuesday 04 December 2012 22.35
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A photographer was among the people injured
A photographer was among the people injured
The council voted to end the 107-year tradition
The council voted to end the 107-year tradition

A member of the Alliance Party has been forced out of her home after a threat was made against her.

Laura McNamee was told by police that she had been threatened by loyalists.

She took part in last night's vote at Belfast City Hall on restricting the flying of the union flag over the building.

During the council debate, Ms McNamee accused the two main unionist parties of trying to browbeat the Alliance Party by using scaremonger tactics.

Ms McNamee was co-opted onto Belfast City Council in 2010 as a replacement for Naomi Long, who won the East Belfast seat from Peter Robinson during the general election.

An Alliance Party spokesman said a specific threat, which identified Ms McNamee on Facebook, was made and police advised her to leave her home.

Last night, 15 police officers, two security workers and a photographer were injured during rioting in Belfast.

The trouble broke out after a majority of city councillors voted to end the practice of flying the union flag from Belfast City Hall every day of the year.

The most violent exchanges took place when some of the 1,000 demonstrators outside Belfast City Hall broke through police lines into the courtyard.

Missiles were fired and the PSNI struggled to contain the protesters for a time.

Police reinforcements were required when a small group headed towards St Matthew's Catholic Church in the Short Strand area.

Three men were arrested.

Two, aged 17 and 22, have since been released on conditional bail and an 18-year-old man was reported to the Public Prosecution Service.

Many of the protesters were peaceful but their anger over what was happening in the City Hall was clear.

Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors were keen to end the practice of flying the union flag from Belfast City Hall.

But they backed a compromise motion from the Alliance Party to fly the flag on 15 designated dates each year, as happens at Stormont.

The unionist parties, who no longer have a majority on the council, claimed that bit-by-bit their British identity is being hollowed out.

They, in turn, were accused of fuelling tension in advance of last night's vote.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Chief Commissioner Michael O'Flaherty has said last night’s violence must not be repeated.

"I am appalled at the violence displayed during last night's protests at City Hall," Mr O'Flaherty said in a statement.

"It is clear that adequate protections must be given to freedom of expression and assembly in Northern Ireland society.

"However, such rights are not absolute and need to be balanced against respect for the rights of others such as the right to safety in the community.

"Police officers, council workers, public servants and journalists have the right to be spared injury while carrying out their lawful duties. Community and political leaders must now find a way to ensure that last night's scenes are not repeated."

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said today that he received a death threat after last night's violence.