Three arrests after Seaview flag protest
Three people have been arrested following a loyalist flag protest at Seaview football grounds which forced the postponement of a Danske Bank Premiership game on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday, 16 February 2013
Police said a small group of protestors gathered at the north Belfast venue on the Shore Road ahead of the highly anticipated derby between league leaders Cliftonville and second-placed Crusaders.
Officers attempted to move protestors away from a white line picket after 40 minutes to allow fans into the ground. Scuffles ensued and police said they were attacked with bottles and other missiles.
The game was postponed after it was initially thought it would go ahead with a 20 minute delay.
"Police, both clubs and local residents groups have been involved in the planning of this match for a number of weeks before the event and all sides had agreed that the match should go ahead peacefully," a PSNI spokesperson said.
Police said protestors were asked to move away from the ground.
"Despite intensive efforts by police and football officials to negotiate a peaceful outcome, the protest did not move and as a consequence police had to move the protest to ensure the safety of fans and allow the match to proceed.
"As they did so a number of protestors began to violently resist the police and officers were attacked with bottles and other missiles."
Crusaders Football Club are deeply disappointed at the postponement of today's game. It is a sad day for football.
Crusaders Football Club
Police say both clubs decided the game would not proceed after learning of public disorder and officers escorted fans as they left the ground.
"This is a regrettable outcome for the clubs, the many genuine fans who wanted to watch the match and indeed the wider North Belfast community," a PSNI statement added.
Both football clubs released statements saying they were disappointed the match had to be postponed.
"Cliftonville Football Club are extremely disappointed that this afternoon's football match versus Crusaders did not go ahead," a club statement read.
Cliftonville thanked fans for their patience and cooperation, while hosts Crusaders also thanked local residents.
"Crusaders Football Club would like to thank the local residents of Skegoniel Avenue for the considerable engagement that has taken place since November to manage this match," a statement said.
"We would like to thank the supporters of both clubs for their forbearance. The football family need to hold together in sport at this difficult time.
"We are disappointed that these efforts have been undermined."
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it is "regrettable that an afternoon of sport was ruined by violent protests".
"Such behaviour achieved nothing except upset and disruption for fans and local residents who were looking forward to the game."
These protests must come off the streets and allow political leaders to work together towards a resolution.
NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said it was disappointing when a football game is abandoned for reasons unconnected with sport.
"The flag protest which forced the cancellation of this match has nothing to do with football," the Sinn Féin MLA said.
"The result is frustration for players, staff, fans and all those who had prepared for the game today. Now, instead of reflecting on a derby game featuring the top two teams in the league, we are looking back at a disheartening afternoon for everyone connected with the clubs.
"Crusaders and Cliftonville, while rivals on the pitch, have forged many links in recent years and I trust the events of today will not derail those efforts.
"I hope the game will be rescheduled and go ahead without incident at a later date."
North Belfast DUP representatives Nigel Dodds MP and Nelson McCausland said the decision was "deeply regrettable".
"Unfortunately this afternoon's events have disrupted this good work and spoiled what should have been simply a great top-of-the-table match for football supporters to enjoy. Football is the biggest loser today," they said in a joint statement.
However the DUP also questioned the PSNI's handling of the situation at Seaview.
Crusaders chairman Stephen Bell said a joint statement would be issued with Cliftonville, the IFA and PSNI.