Northern Ireland

15 police officers injured during Belfast City Hall violence

Fifteen police officers have been injured during rioting at Belfast City Hall on Monday night.

It followed the passing of a vote to change the council's policy of flying the union flag all year round.

A loyalist protest outside the building erupted into violence minutes after the motion was passed. Disorder also broke out in east Belfast.

Council staff removed the flag at 07:00 GMT on Tuesday. It will now only be flown on 18 designated days.

Two security guards and a press photographer were also hurt during the violence at the City Hall.

he police were attacked with bottles and bricks in the Albertbridge Road and Templemore Avenue areas of east Belfast.

Three people were arrested - two teenagers in east Belfast and a 22-year-old man in Donegall Square in the city centre.

First Minister Peter Robinson condemned the violence but said the decision to remove the flag was "provocative".

'Damaged relations'

In a statement, the DUP leader said: "There is no excuse or justification for attacks on police officers, council staff, and property."

However, Mr Robinson added: "The decision to pursue the removal of the flag from city hall and other council buildings, despite warnings of the likely consequential impact on community relations, was foolish and provocative.

"Those who talk most about building community relations have by their actions in the council substantially damaged relations across the city."

Nationalists wanted the union flag taken down altogether, but in the end voted on a compromise from the Alliance party that it would fly on designated days.

The vote was 29 to 21, with unionists accusing the Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance of attacking their cultural identity.

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said the police operation had been completely inadequate.

"If that had been 1,000 or more republicans out there they would not have left it that they were able to come into the back of city hall."

'Orchestration'

However, Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said: "We put in place last night a considered police operation, a substantial police operation - there were dozens, in fact scores of police officers deployed there.

"There was nothing to suggest before last night that there was going to be any significant violence."

He added: "Put the responsibility on the people who actually committed the criminality.

"Clearly there was a level of orchestration - some people brought bolt cutters, others put on masks immediately after the vote came through."

Justice Minister David Ford said some unionist politicians had to share some of the blame for the disturbances.

"The violence which took place at the city hall and round St Matthew's Church (in east Belfast) was the responsibility of two groups of people," he said.

"The first is those who went to the city hall spoiling for a fight, who attacked police officers and council staff.

"But there is a second group which bears responsibility. DUP and UUP politicians fomented this protest, with both leaflets and the use of social media.

Image caption Loyalist protesters forced their way through the back gate of the City Hall

"They called people on to the streets. They must have known, from experience as recent as this summer, that violence was almost inevitable."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "Firstly, we are clear that no one should have been attacked or injured last night, no property should have been damaged, and no illegality should be tolerated. Attacking police officers is wrong, full-stop.

"But it is also wrong to continue to make the unionist people of Belfast feel that they are to be treated as a minority whose heritage and values are to be suppressed."

However, SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said: "The actions of these people, who were protesting the democratic decision by the council to alter the flag policy at city hall to only flying the union flag on designated days, were themselves an outrage to the democracy they claim to desire.

Bottles and golf balls

The council had to adjourn for half an hour when loyalists stormed Belfast City Hall's courtyard and came close to breaking into the building.

The DUP has now asked that the union flag be allowed to be flown every day from the cenotaph in the grounds of the building.

The proposal is being considered and requires the Alliance party to support it.

Image caption The flag was removed from the City Hall on Tuesday morning

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