Eight injured amid flag trouble

Published Monday, 03 December 2012
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Eight people - including five police officers - have been injured during trouble which erupted after a controversial vote was passed to fly the Union flag only on designated days at Belfast City Hall.

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Two female officers have been hospitalised, although their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Two security staff at City Hall have also been injured, one of whom suffered cuts to his face and head.

A Press Association photographer sustained an injury when he was hit by a police baton.

Sporadic violence also broke out in east Belfast, with reports that St Matthew's Catholic Church on the Newtownards Road came under attack.

A large crowd of loyalists also gathered in the Albertbridge Road area, where a bus was hijacked on Monday night.

"Crowds have now dispersed from the City Hall and Newtownards Road areas," a police statement said.

"Police remain in the Albertbridge Road area while crowds disperse after disorder in that area," the police spokeswoman added.

Over 1,000 people gathered to protest outside City Hall ahead of the council meeting.

Trouble erupted after protesters broke through police lines and tried to gain access to the grounds through the rear gates shortly after the vote.

Windows were smashed and it is believed cars in the vicinity have also been damaged.

"Security inside seemed overwhelmed by the situation", UTV's Sharon O'Neill said.

Officers in riot gear and dogs were brought in to try to bring the situation under control.

The flag has flown outside the historic building every day for more than a century.

The Alliance amendment supporting the flying of the Union flag on 17 designated days was passed by 29 votes to 21.

Party leader David Ford described the result as "a clear victory for the Alliance Party".

The move brings Belfast City Hall into line with Stormont and other Government buildings.

It comes after the council's strategic policy and resources committee voted 11-9 in favour of removing the flag completely last month - a move supported by Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

Unionist politicians did not back the proposals.

Alliance Councillor Laura McNamee condemned the violent scenes at one of Northern Ireland's most iconic buildings.

"We recognise anyone's right to a peaceful protest, however what has been taking place outside Belfast City Hall tonight has been neither peaceful or respectful. This was proven when a number of protesters pushed past police and invaded the City Hall."

Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh said: "Unfortunately it looks like the police were not prepared for the threat.

"The people that called this rabble, these thugs onto the street have to take responsibility and that's some of the politicians at City Hall as well," the councillor claimed.

Mr McVeigh added that the politicians in question should condemn the violence and "go out and reason with these people."

DUP Councillor Alex Easton said that people needed to realise the frustration in the Unionist community over the removal of the Union flag.

He added: "We condemn any violence. It's not something we want to see.

"Nobody wants to see anyone getting hurt. Any person that's hurting anyone is wrong and it has to be condemned."

Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers said he was not surprised violence had flared.

"There is a real anger," he said. "I cannot condone violence but people do not realise just how strongly the people in Northern Ireland think about flying the flag over City Hall."

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said the violence was "an outrage."

"This was an appalling spectacle, resulting in significant damage to property and, most alarmingly, injury to a number of those seeking to keep City Hall secure, and our thoughts are with those who were hurt.

"Any attempt at a resort to mob rule cannot be countenanced," he added.

Traffic was disrupted in the city centre and in east Belfast on Monday night.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
UK RESIDENT BELFAST in belfast wrote (502 days ago):
The irish republic flies its national flag above their buildings are they prepared to change this to 17 days a year to show they are all inclusive and dont want to offend the protestants that live there.I think not.While I dont condone the violence I can understand the feelings that the flag being removed has caused. Anything british is being eroded we are part of the UK and we should not need a vote or permission to fly our union flag.Every country in the world is entitled to fly their national flag why should Northern Ireland be any different.
Robert Adams in Crossgar wrote (502 days ago):
The British Flag should fly over the Belfast City Hall, We are ruled by the UK I have no objection to Irish people living in the Northern Ireland but if they choose to live here it is part of the UK & there forth should live under the British Flag, the same way if a British person wanted to live in the south of Ireland they would have to respect the tricolor . This whole debate is as stupid as saying if your Irish you should be paid in Euros If you look at what is being said about forcing Irish people to live under the British flag in Northern Ireland , what Flag should be flying in the main cities of the UK with all the different Nationalities you have there Thanks , Rob
Danny in Ulster wrote (503 days ago):
@Catholic in Belfast - Whilst your comments sound reasonable and fair for the most part in contrast to the bitter republican goading and gloating of many other posts here, everyone knows they would never accept any flag with the crown on it as it would offend them...
jlad in n.ireland wrote (503 days ago):
get on with it, its just a flag an the religion mention is a load of nonsense, all are ancestors were catholics to king henry wanted more wifes an the pope said no
Michael in County Down wrote (503 days ago):
People in the North have the opportunity for dual nationality. The union jack should not suppress the Irish population in the North. If the Tricolour and union jack were flown together this would represent the diversity of such a small place. I am a young person, I want peace, as a nationalist I want there to be peace with the unionists. We can work together for Peace. Peace for the future of the North of Ireland. Peace.
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