Northern Ireland

Ballyclare, Carrickfergus violence inexcusable: Police

The police said the violence in Ballyclare and Carrickfergus had been co-ordinated
Image caption Police said the violence in Ballyclare and Carrickfergus had been co-ordinated

The violence that erupted in Ballyclare on Saturday night was inexcusable, a senior PSNI officer has said.

Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said police would apologise when in the wrong but violence did not have to be "inevitable".

"There were some parts of the process we could have undertaken differently and we will look at that," he said.

Trouble flared following the removal of union and paramilitary flags near a Catholic church.

Six officers sustained whiplash when a hijacked bus was used to ram a police vehicle. Other cars were hijacked, set alight and used to attack police lines.

Police deployed water cannon and baton rounds were used after a number of petrol bombs and missiles were thrown by loyalists.

Speaking to Good Morning Ulster ACC Finlay, said the issue of flags is a "very difficult and emotive one".

"We have undertaken a review and will look at that in the cold, calm light of the days ahead," he said.

Flags have been removed peacefully in previous years following negotiations between police and community leaders.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the violence was an "over reaction" and that the trouble was "orchestrated" in an attempt to "spread police resources".

He did, however, say the removal of the flags could have been handled "more sensitively."

'Fear and mayhem'

Alliance leader and South Antrim MLA David Ford said the decision made by the police was "right" and in keeping with protocol.

"They bear no blame for what happened on Saturday night. The blame lies entirely with those who caused fear and mayhem in Ballyclare," he said.

The Flags Protocol was agreed before justice and policing powers were devolved to Northern Ireland in April 2010.

Mr Ford said the protocol would be reviewed by an Executive sub-committee in the next few days.

Mr Ford, who is also justice minister, said the protocol had been established by the Northern Ireland Office, in conjunction with a number of agencies including the departments of social development (DSD) and regional development (DRD).

Questioning the stance of the DRD he said it was ironic that Roads Service took action against people who put up leaflets on lamp posts, but seemed "unwilling to take action against people who put up flags of illegal organisations, that's why the police had to get involved".

ACC Finlay said people were causing hurt and fear.

"People need to take personal responsibility about what goes on in their local areas and those that have influence must seek to use it," he said.

"The community needs to step in and reclaim the streets from these people that were causing damage to their own community.

"Destroying cars and putting the lives of elderly and young children at risk and in fear in this time of heightened tensions."

ACC Finlay agreed with DUP MP Sammy Wilson's assessment that the violence had been co-ordinated.

"There was some degree of organisation," he said.

"The disorder that broke out in Carrickfergus seemed to us a result of some degree of contact between the people engaged in Ballyclare in seeking to distract police to another site."

He also said that while 11 and 12 July made exceptional demands on the PSNI, the resources were in place to deal with it.

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