THE chairman of Rathcoole Neighbourhood Renewal Partnership has condemned Friday night’s robbery at the Centra filling station on O’Neill Road as “an attack on the local community”.
Phil Hamilton, who lives not far from the shop and knows the owner of the business, described the incident as “absolutely wrong” and “a moment of sheer madness”.
The Progressive Unionist Party representative described the Centra store as “an asset the community cannot afford to lose”, adding that the owners of the business provide a vital service to local people and are keen supporters of local charity and community initiatives.
Mr Hamilton, who is also a community worker in the area, said that up until the incident at the filling station, Friday night’s flag protest had been peaceful.
“This was a moment of sheer madness by a very small minority who were not only intent on wrecking the garage, but robbed the place and threatened female members of staff,” he told the Times.
“This shop is essential for the Rathcoole and Rathfern communities and a lot of people in this area rely on the shop. The business also employs a number of local people, so this wasn’t just an attack on a shop, it was an attack on the local community.
“The four or five thugs who did this have taken away from the good work of the people who were taking part in the peaceful flag protest. The organisers of the protest and people in the area are disgusted by what’s happened and I would urge anyone who knows the names of the thugs who did this to pass them on to the police.”
Mr Hamilton paid tribute to local clergy and community workers who did their best to calm tensions in the area and prevent the trouble from escalating.
“I support peaceful protest, and it’s everyone’s human right to protest peacefully, but all this act of thuggery did was to take away from the objectives of the protest.
“The message from the protest organisers and from myself is clear, anyone intent on going to protests to stir up trouble, to carry out violence or vandalise their local area should stay away. This small minority of thugs are not welcome at the protests and do nothing for the cause.”
North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley also condemned the attack on the business and subsequent violence, branding it “totally unacceptable”.
She stressed that the mindless actions of a small minority of protesters had caused serious disruption to local people trying to go about their daily business, and potentially put local people’s jobs in jeopardy.
The DUP councillor, who was among those who attended recent flag protests in Cloughfern and Glengormley which passed off without incident, commented: “People have the right to protest peacefully, but not to wreck and not to cause destruction - that is totally unacceptable.”