News

Rioters 'must pull back from the brink'

Trouble has broken out on numerous occasions in east Belfast.

A loyalist community worker from east Belfast has urged those involved in rioting to pull back "from the brink" after continued violence in the area.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013
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On Monday night loyalist and nationalist crowds clashed again near the Short Strand interface, amid reports that local homes were attacked on both sides of the community.

CCTV footage captured the moment petrol bombs were thrown onto the church grounds of St Matthew's Catholic Church from Pitt Park by loyalist youths.

Willie Ward from St Mathew's said 15 children with special needs had to be evacuated from the church hall.

"The children were frightened, they knew something was wrong," he told UTV.

Police say nationalist youths from the Short Strand responded by pelting bricks and other missiles.

An officer was injured and water cannon was used after police say they came under attack from crowds throwing petrol bombs and stones.

A bus driver was also hurt during an attempted hijacking and stones were thrown at another bus on the Newtownards Road. Evening bus services to east Belfast will operate with diversions until further notice.

The disturbances are linked to the ongoing dispute over the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.

Loyalist community worker Jim Wilson, who said loyalist youths were involved when the trouble began on Monday night, blamed outside elements.

I appeal for those young lads to give my community peace, let them be able to live a life where their children can go out to play and not be fearful at night when they go to bed... Please come back from the brink.

Jim Wilson, community worker

"I am not going to defend something that's indefensible," he told UTV.

He said those from both sides of the community in the area are living in fear.

"Do you know who suffers for this afterwards? Those people who had to move their children last night and have been moving their kids out every night.

"We want to live in peace and the people in the Short Strand want to live in peace."

He urged those in the nationalist community to do all they could to resolve tensions.

"As much as I am trying in here, are you trying as hard on your side because when houses are coming under sustained attack for two hours, they can't say that they're not there or they can't see it," he added.

Mr Wilson appealed for those who felt they needed to protest not to bring the flag demonstrations to flashpoint areas.

Local Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile said going into the seventh week of disturbance in the city was "very frustrating".

"People here are palpably frightened," he said.

"The leaders of political unionism need to get a grip on this because there are elements who are deliberately moving it to interfaces and when they do that this is the end result.

"We need to move beyond recrimination and we need to start dealing with it in the reality of life for people. And the reality of life for people at the minute in broader east Belfast is very very bad.

"It affects people on the unionist side just as much as on the Short Strand side. People want it to stop."

At times it's really nice, it's peaceful. But when things like this happen, it becomes very frightening.

Thomas McNulty, Short Strand resident

Pensioners Thomas and Jane McNulty have lived in their house in the Short Strand for 24 years and say the property is regularly pelted with missiles.

"It has been very hectic, very scary and you don't know what's going to come over the fencing, the attacks on our house from the Newtownards Road," Mr McNulty explained.

He said each evening he doesn't know whether there will be trouble as the protests continue.

"Last week three paintbombs came over. One on a Monday night, one on a Thursday night and one on a Friday night.

"Last night it was petrol bombs. There must have been five or six petrol bombs came into the back garden."

He said his wife was very nervous and had to be taken to their daughter's house away from the disorder.

Mr McNulty warned someone could have been injured or worse if they had been in the area at the time and he appealed for politicians to engage in talks and address the problem.

Meanwhile, Claire Campbell, 25, has lived in her home in the nearby unionist side of the peace wall for more than four years and said it was not unusual for homes in the area to be attacked, although the recent flag dispute had exacerbated tensions.

The mother of two says she is terrified in her own home and has been on a waiting list to move from the area.

"My wee girl wets the bed at five-years-old because she can't sleep because she is scared of somebody hitting her window. My wee boy doesn't sleep at all."

"It's constant. You're just constantly waiting for a brick to be hitting your window or roof," she added.

"It's very frustrating that you have to live in it and there's no help for you."

She added: "I agree with the protests, but not with the violence."