A police chief today urged officers to fire baton rounds sooner, in a bid to halt any repeat of the rioting that left nearly 90 people injured in Belfast.
Rounds were discharged for the first time in Northern Ireland in nearly three years when a nationalist mob went on the rampage last night.
Blast and petrol bombs exploded in the flashpoint Ardoyne district as serious violence flared after a bitterly-disputed Orange order march.
Hordes of protesters ignored attempts by Sinn Féin chiefs Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly, and republican marshals, to launch rooftop attacks on police and army.
Eighty officers were hurt, one seriously, and about seven civilians, the Police Service said.
Two journalists were among those injured, with one hit in the back by a blast bomb.
Riot squad officers helped him out and took him to hospital for treatment.
A car was also hijacked and set on fire close to police lines.
As rubble was cleared from the streets around Ardoyne where water canons blasted troublemakers, the head of an organisation representing rank and file officers claimed tactics used to restore order were ineffective.
Irwin Montgomery, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said: “The evidence is that rioters are not being held sufficiently far back to prevent injury to officers.
“These incidents are turning into a war of attrition on the Police Service and it is totally unacceptable that we are failing to subdue the rioters sufficiently to send them home or make arrests.
“The Federation has had assurances from the Chief Constable that the authority is there to fire impact rounds.
“Unless more forceful tactics are employed earlier in the confrontations, sooner or later officers will become severely injured or even killed.”
Until Tuesday night no baton rounds had been fired in Northern Ireland since September 2002.
But after concerns over the most contentious of all Northern Ireland’s Twelfth of July parades proved well founded, security chiefs deployed their new weapons, known as attenuated energy projectiles.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain insisted the disorder could not be tolerated, but stressed it had been isolated.
Speaking in the British House of Commons, he said: “The truth is that regrettable and unacceptable violence was an isolated incident compared with a marching season of about 3,000 parades which went off overwhelmingly peacefully.”
Ardoyne priest Father Aidan Troy, who had worked all day to try to defuse any tensions, spoke of his sadness at what happened.
“I have been out and looked at the streets this morning and it says failure. It all went so horribly wrong,” he said.
Fr Troy, who had to help traumatised children during the Holy Cross Primary School protests, said no-one had won.
Yet again there had been “the betrayal of this community”, he added.
The security forces had attempted to hold back nationalist protesters as hundreds of Orangemen marched along the Crumlin Road for the return leg of their parade.
Nigel Dodds, the Democratic Unionist MP for North Belfast, hit out at republicans for what he described as a deplorable attack on a totally peaceful, lawful parade.
“The scenes of intense violence which has left so many police officers and members of the press injured are a scandal and a disgrace,” Mr Dodds said.
He claimed the use of blast bombs “clearly demonstrates premeditated, organised violence on the part of republican paramilitaries.”
Mr Dodds added: “Either Sinn Féin/IRA cannot control this violence or do not wish to control it.
“Either way, it raises serious questions about the future of the political process.”
The Orange Order called on the Parades Commission to ban all future protests at the Ardoyne.
A spokesman for the order’s leadership said: “The rioting happens so often that the Ardoyne has become synonymous with serious, orchestrated violence.
“Do we have to wait for people to die before the Parades Commission acts to put a stop to it?”
Gerry Kelly claimed the trouble was created by the ruling Parades Commission allowing Orangemen to walk along the disputed route.
Minor stone throwing and insults between youths and marchers would have been manageable if police had not intervened with a baton charge and water canon, the Sinn Féin MLA alleged.
He said: “This action disempowered the local residents stewards and for a time control was lost.
“This is not what we wanted to see happen, nor was it what the residents of that area wanted to see happen.
“The hit-and-run decisions of the Parades Commission is part of the problem. Bad decisions which others are left to manage.”