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PSNI defends Seaview tactics

Police during the protest outside Seaview on Saturday.

A senior PSNI chief has defended the police handling of a loyalist protest outside Seaview, which forced the postponement of an Irish league football match.

Monday, 18 February 2013
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Cliftonville were due to meet Crusaders in a highly anticipated north Belfast derby on Saturday afternoon, but the match was called off after trouble erupted outside the Shore Road grounds.

The unrest followed a white line picket by a small group of protestors carrying Union flags. It has also been claimed they wanted to voice their concerns about the behaviour of football fans in the area in the past.

Three people have been charged with disorderly behaviour and assault on police following the disorder. They are due to appear in court next month.

Chief Superintendent George Clarke described what happened on Saturday as "sad and regrettable scenes that have damaged, I think, the reputation of football in this country".

Police have come under criticism for their actions in moving back the protestors, but Chief Supt Clarke defended the PSNI tactics.

He said a 40 minute protest outside Seaview effectively prevented Cliftonville fans from entering the grounds safely.

"The protestors were engaged with by local people, by people from the football clubs, they were asked to move back to facilitate. Those protestors refused to do that," he explained.

I think our tactics were right on Saturday.

Chief Superintendent George Clarke

Police moved forward after three formal warnings were given to protestors, the police chief claimed.

"That soft line was met with violent resistance. It was met with people pushing back and an exchange of missiles with the police," said Chief Supt Clarke.

The DUP accused police of acting aggressively and one local councillor, Guy Spence, claimed he was struck by an officer.

Mr Clarke said the PSNI will be held to account for their actions on Saturday, and encouraged anyone with issues concerning the operation to contact the Police Ombudsman. But he maintained they could not see an alternative to how they handled the situation.

"Anyone who thinks police exacerbated or overreacted, I would like them to explain to me what they think should have happened after 40 minutes of protests, substantial community negotiation and formal warnings from the police," questioned the police chief.

Chief Supt Clarke added that police will continue to act to keep people safe, but hoped those plans would be rendered unnecessary.

"I hope that we will not see a repetition of these scenes again.

"We need as a society to look at where we protest and how we express our views and opinions," he said, adding that the policing operation was "not a good use of police for the wider community".

If people want to target football grounds that would be a sad day for football.

Aubry Ralph

The Irish Football Association said they were extremely disappointed that the game was postponed for reasons "not associated with the game of football".

Aubry Ralph, chairman of the Irish Premier League, described the events as "a bad day for local football".

"Those aren't the sort of images we want to portray our games here," he told UTV. "We can't afford to allow politics to be allowed to be involved in these."

Mr Ralph called for politicians and community workers to liaise with the demonstrators.

"There are forums to do it but outside a football ground is not the place to do it," he explained.

Both football clubs said they were disappointed the match had to be postponed.

Crusaders said they had worked with residents in Skegoniel Avenue since November to ensure that fans could get safely to the match, while Cliftonville thanked fans for their cooperation on the day.