Police have used water cannons to break up a nationalist riot following a controversial Protestant Orange Order parade in west Belfast.
Stones, bottles, bricks, fireworks and paint bombs were thrown at police lines yesterday by a crowd of around 300 people after Orangemen passed through the Springfield Road to the sound of whistles from a nationalist counter demonstration.
Six police officers suffered minor injuries during clashes with nationalist rioters following the Orange Order’s Whiterock Parade in west Belfast, a spokesman confirmed.
A nationalist residents’ group representative claimed the violence erupted when police failed to pull out of the area once the marchers had passed.
Sean Paul O’Hare, of Springfield Residents’ Action Group, said: ‘‘The PSNI did not pull out even though we had asked them to do so.
‘‘I think that these disturbances were an indication of just how angry people in the community are.
‘‘They were angry at this decision to allow the march through with no route restriction and feel the Parades Commission has put the community into a corner.
‘‘We went to them with positive proposals and those were rejected. The police have also not helped matters by their handling of the parade.’’
An independent unionist councillor, who earlier in the week urged both communities to ensure that today’s march passed off peacefully, said the violence on the nationalist side was ‘‘regrettable’’.
Frank McCoubrey said: ‘‘I’d like to pay tribute to the people and organisers of today’s Orange Order parade for ensuring that it was conducted in a peaceful and dignified manner.
‘‘I am sorry that I cannot say the same about whoever organised the protests on the nationalist side.’’
Mr McCoubrey claimed those responsible for the violence on the nationalist side were intent on a confrontation with the police.
The incident followed overnight disturbances in the east of the city in the Short Strand during which two police officers were injured and a house on the loyalist side in Cluan Place was destroyed.
Loyalist and Sinn Fein representatives blamed each other’s community.
It also emerged yesterday that Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams will hold talks in Dublin tomorrow with Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern on the problems in the peace process.
Members of the Sinn Fein national executive reviewed the current political situation at a meeting in Dublin.
Tomorrow’s talks will take place just days before Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr Ahern travel to Northern Ireland for a crucial meeting with the province’s pro-Good Friday Agreement parties.
Ulster Unionists are expected to press Mr Blair for some form of sanction against republicans.
Republican street violence is making the Good Friday Agreement lose credibility among unionists, a leading member of David Trimble’s Assembly team claimed last night.
Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain claimed unionists were reaching the conclusion that ‘‘republicans are not serious about the Agreement’’.
Mr Cobain, a member of the Northern Ireland Police Board and a long time supporter of the Agreement, told PA News: ‘‘Ordinary unionists are fed up to the back teeth with all this.
‘‘In the past week alone, you have had republicans rioting in north Belfast as the (Orange Order) Tour of the North parade passed through the Duncairn area and you have had other incidents in other parts of the city.
‘‘Last night, homes were attacked in Cluan Place in east Belfast from the nationalist Short Strand side and today, you have Whiterock.
‘‘These are not spontaneous. This is organised rioting by republicans and it is making a laughing stock of the Agreement.
‘‘They could have stayed away from today and there would have been no trouble. You have to ask what their motives are.’’
Police later claimed the withdrawal of stewards from the nationalist protest had ‘‘directly led’’ to the violence on Springfield Road.
A spokesman said: ‘‘In the run-up to the parade, we had been given assurances that both the loyalist parade and the nationalist protest would be fully marshalled and have stewards on each side.
‘‘Thirty minutes before the parade was due to pass the Workman Avenue-Springfield Road junction, we were suddenly informed that all stewards on the nationalist side were being withdrawn and that there would be no-one to marshal the nationalist protest.
‘‘After the parade had passed on to the Springfield Road, police began to withdraw from the area.
‘‘As they did so, they came under a heavy and sustained attack by bottles, bricks and other missiles thrown from the nationalist crowd.’’
The spokesman also said Protestant homes on the other side of the police lines had come under attack from the nationalist rioters.
He added: ‘‘Water cannon were deployed as an alternative to baton rounds and after 20 minutes police were able to withdraw from the area.’’
Belfast’s head police officer, Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, said: ‘‘Our objective was to police the parade in line with the Parades Commission’s determination, while respecting the rights and interests of both sides.
‘‘We deeply regret the decision of the organisers of the nationalist protest to withdraw marshalling, an action which directly led to disgraceful scenes on the Springfield Road.
‘‘I would appeal to community leaders on both sides to try to calm the situation. People living on interfaces across the city have had enough of this kind of violence.’’