What’s in a riot? Night brings more trouble to east Belfast
You can hear the man with the loudhailer perfectly clearly, demanding a peaceful and dignified protest.
Outside Belfast City Hall, that’s pretty much what he got.As councillors inside lined up to condemn violence from those unwilling to accept their council’s democratic decision, outside, City Hall was cordoned off by riot police and the Pangolins – white armoured police Land Rovers.
The riot guys weren’t needed. The marchers were addressed by speakers. They did The Bouncy, a chant beloved of Rangers fans. They sang The Billy Boys about being “up to their knees in Fenian blood” and it was all calm as requested.
OK – so The Billy Boys can now attract potential police attention around Scottish football stadiums – but this is Belfast.
The marchers – several hundred – then left for home. And that means east Belfast, perhaps a mile or so walk across the River Lagan and past the spanking buildings of Laganside and the shiny new post-peace Belfast.
Then it started. The video evidence is clear. As the marchers pass the Nationalist/Republican Short Strand estate, they are pelted with rocks. They scatter in some disarray.
There is a line of police Land Rovers on the southern side of the roads between returning marchers and the Short Strand. But you see little sign of police response beyond that.
From then on, demonstrators regroup along the Lower Newtownards Road and the disturbances begin.
That said, we’d been told precisely where and when trouble would start here. The police intel was that there would be a concerted riot last night, hours before it began.
As Northern Irish riots go it wasn’t particularly serious. We are not talking about buildings ablaze, vehicles hijacked and burned or sustained petrol bombing.
Sure, there was a small number of petrol bombs with baton rounds fired in return, sometimes after a loud warning to disperse. Water cannon was used – though often as much to hose small burning barricades as actual rioters.
Police officers in control were out there explaining their actions to “community leaders”.
We saw one such “bronze” at work, full riot gear spattered with paint: “Listen – I’m not going to arrest you. I’m trying to work with you.”
This was met with shouts of police brutality and allegations that the police had done nothing to counter the Short Strand attackers: “Listen to me. You know my name. You’ve got my number.”
The officer continues: “Rioting’s a serious offence and we will arrest people. We’ve acted with restraint tonight and my officers have faced a murderous assault.”
Several hundred on the streets and the trouble was all but done well before 10pm. Eight arrests tells you this was hardly armageddon and very much confined to one small part of this city for the reasons outlined in yesterday’s blog.
This is nasty and no doubt a potentially “murderous assault” on a very few one street corners.
But cast your mind back a few years to the Drumcree disturbances for example: vehicles, buildings – even a train – set on fire. Roads blocked across all six counties. An MP only able to get to his office by army helicopter.
Now – five nights in a row in a couple of districts of Belfast. Yet Portadown, Larne, Londonderry – I could go on – all remain quiet.
Flashpoints in central, west and north Belfast equally so.
Perspective and context are all.
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