News24

Big clean-up after Belfast riots

2010-07-13 14:07

Belfast - Authorities in Northern Ireland faced a major clean-up on Tuesday following two nights of rioting that brought sectarian tensions to a boil and left 55 police officers injured during a major Protestant holiday.

Commuters faced delays going to work as several roads were closed because of burned-out cars and other debris on some thoroughfares.

Northern Ireland police say 55 officers were injured in two nights of disturbances; the worst injured reportedly was a female officer who sustained head and neck injuries when she was hit in the head by a brick.

Police and politicians accused Irish Republican Army dissidents of orchestrating the violence following Monday's province-wide marches by the Orange Order, a British Protestant brotherhood loathed by the province's Irish Catholic minority.

Violence spreads

A long-term solution for dealing with Protestant parades needed to be found, said Alistair Finlay, assistant chief constable of Northern Ireland police.

"This is the only way we can move away from the disorder, tensions and fear that grips Northern Ireland every year," he said.

Monday's violence began in Ardoyne, a traditional IRA power base in north Belfast, where a hundred or demonstrators tried to block one parade route while masked men and youths on side streets bombarded police with bricks, bottles, stones and gasoline bombs.

Violence spread to several other working-class Catholic districts in Belfast and other towns. Sporadic rioting continued into early on Tuesday - laying bare the communal hostilities that remain despite Northern Ireland's nearly two decades of peacemaking.

"Society wants to move forward, and the organised actions of the past 36 hours are doing nothing to reinforce the peace that the people of Ireland voted for," said Belfast Mayor Pat Convery, a moderate Irish nationalist.

'Kick the pope'

Since 1998, a British-appointed Parades Commission has imposed restrictions on Orange marching routes to prevent the Protestants - accompanied by "kick the pope" bands of tattooed men playing fife and drum - from passing most Catholic districts.

Still, authorities have failed to negotiate alternative routes for some parades, including the one past Ardoyne's row of shops on Crumlin Road. The thoroughfare connects one Orange lodge to central Belfast.

The disputed Ardoyne parade involves a single Orange lodge of about 30 men and an accompanying band of about 50 men and boys.

But it attracts several hundred Protestant supporters to match the Catholic crowds opposed to it, with police caught in the middle each summer.

The Orange Order commemorates July 12 - also known as the Glorious Twelfth, an official holiday in Northern Ireland - as the date when their community, descended largely from 17th-century Scottish settlers, secured their place in north-east Ireland versus Catholic natives.

On July 12 1690, the forces of Protestant King William of Orange defeated the army of his dethroned Catholic rival, James II, at the Battle of the Boyne south of Belfast.