There was fresh trouble in Belfast tonight as police pledged to get tough with loyalist demonstrators who have caused major disruption for days.
The city’s senior police commander, Assistant Chief Constable, Duncan McCausland, said he was determined to keep main routes open.
As a special operation was mounted protesters were back on the streets and a number of vehicles were hijacked and burned in parts of north and west Belfast.
Many of the protests were mounted peacefully by women and children and Mr McCausland said he had a difficult balancing act to carry out.
“Our key aim is to keep the life blood of the city open.” but he added: “I have clear indications that if I move against women and children, paramilitaries or other organisations in the community may come out against me and my officers.
“I have to balance that and make a decision in terms of maintaining law and order and the peace of this community – but I intend to keep the roads open as much as possible.”
Mr McCausland said he was especially anxious to keep motorway access and hospital access open.
He spoke out after he accompanied Chief Constable Hugh Orde to a two-hour meeting at which they briefed the Policing Board on the violence of recent days which started with Saturday’s contentious Orange Order parade.
Chief Constable Orde was heckled by loyalist demonstrators gathered outside the building as he was driven past and taken into a secure car park.
They were demonstrating at what they claimed was excessive force used by police during the riots of the weekend.
While Chief Constable Orde avoided the demonstrators, Board chairman Professor Desmond Rea did venture out and speak with them.
He said afterwards: “We believe as a board that Northern Ireland has been efficiently policed – that is not to say there were not individuals who went beyond what they should have.
“I said to the protesters if they have complaints against the police they can go to the Ombudsman.”
Prof. Rea said that the street violence in the North had again damaged its image in the outside world.
“You just need to turn on CNN or BBC World and you become aware this is a lead item," he said.
Meanwhile, DUP justice spokesman and Policing Board member, Ian Paisley Jnr, said the briefing had held few surprises, but he said no one should be in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation.
The Police, he said “appear to have lost, in certain parts of Belfast, consent to police”. The PSNI would have to try to win back “those who feel alienated from policing”, he added.
Across the city Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain had a series of meetings with political leaders.
DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley told him he needed to put together a financial package to address the problems of the loyalist areas from which the trouble emanated.
He said the British government also needed to replace the Parades Commission which has so angered Orangemen with its rulings banning contentious parades – late last in Whiterock last Saturday – from flashpoint interface areas.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Reg Empey urged Mr Hain to get out on the streets of the city to gauge loyalists’ feelings.
Empey said: “There is no point in confining his meetings to opinion-formers or the great and the good of this country.
“He has to get out on the ground and see for himself, he must listen to their concerns and enter into dialogue with opinion-formers at a grass roots level.”
He added: “He must understand that the sense of alienation felt by ordinary unionists is profound.”
Tensions in loyalist areas were raised again when police mounted raids in the Highfield area. Houses were searched and one man arrested.
Earlier in the week police uncovered a bomb making factory and arrested a man who has since appeared in court charged with possessing seven guns and bomb making equipment.