Petrol bombs and bricks thrown at police in Belfast

Monday 07 January 2013 23.16
Talks were held yesterday to discuss continuing disturbances in Belfast
Talks were held yesterday to discuss continuing disturbances in Belfast

Police have been attacked with petrol bombs and bricks in Belfast during a fifth consecutive night of violence in Northern Ireland.

Officers have deployed water cannon in an attempt to separate rival factions on the Newtownards Road.

The trouble came as Belfast City Council met for the first time since it made the controversial decision to restrict the flying of the union flag over Belfast City Hall.

Hundreds of loyalists picketed outside Belfast City Hall, but while that protest passed off without incident, trouble flared again in the east of the city.

Earlier, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said senior members of the UVF in east Belfast have been increasingly orchestrating some of the loyalist violence in the row over the union flag.

He also voiced his concern about the number of young people involved in the rioting and called on all those involved to take a step back.

Loyalist pickets have been continuing since early December in response to a decision by the council to limit the number of days the flag flies over City Hall.

So far, 62 police officers have been injured and 96 people have been arrested.

Mr Baggott said he believed the UVF involvement was limited to east Belfast and there was no evidence of a collective endorsement of the organisation.

However, a leading Presbyterian Minister said he believes there is no organised paramilitary involvement in the violence.

Reverend Mervyn Gibson said those organising the riots are not from a traditionally paramilitary background.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Rev Gibson said: "There's no paramilitary organisation of the riots.

"Young lads get together, text and arrange where to meet and gather their stones and their petrol bombs, but I certainly haven't seen organised paramilitary involvement.

"I've seen people organising the riots, but they wouldn't be from a traditional paramilitary background."

Rev Gibson, who is County Grand Chaplain of the Orange Order in Belfast, was involved in a meeting yesterday to discuss how the trouble might be brought to an end and said the situation was difficult to deal with.

He acknowledges that many young people are taking part in what is sometimes called recreational rioting.

In the past, when paramilitaries were orchestrating activities, it was possible to have it stopped, he added.

But in this case, it is more difficult because there is no clear line of responsibility for the trouble.

Rev Gibson also claimed there have been individual cases of police brutality and that in recent days the PSNI has taken a more robust approach to the trouble.

He said work has to continue to stop the rioting because it is damaging the community and people are fearful.

A number of political representatives have been subject to death threats during the unrest - the latest being SDLP Assembly member Patsy McGlone.

A parcel containing a sympathy card referring to Mr McGlone and a bullet was intercepted at a postal sorting office.