CALLS have been made for loyalist protesters to call an end to their street protests against Belfast City Council’s decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag.
Macedon councillor John Scott and Antrim Line councillor Mark Cosgrove made the call after rioting broke out at a protest held at Cloughfern Corner on Friday night.
Shortly before the protest at 6pm a bus was hijacked and set on fire at the entrance to the Rathfern estate. Police were then attacked with stones, fireworks, bricks, paint bombs and petrol bombs during nearly three-and-a-half hours of trouble.
Around 30 people were directly involved in the violence and children, some thought to be as young as 12, were seen throwing missiles at police while hundreds more watched on.
Images of the violence were beamed around the globe as members of the world’s media gathered at Cloughfern Corner to witness the scenes of destruction and recreational rioting.
Organisers of the protest at Cloughfern said their event had been “hijacked” by rioters and that the protest was called off.
Protests were also held in Ballyclare and Glengormley on Friday evening, however, they passed off without incident.
Macedon councillor John Scott condemned the violence and called for an end to the protests.
He said: “First and foremost I would have to congratulate those people who held a protest in Glengormley which passed off peacefully.
“But why can a protest be peaceful in Glengormley yet a mile-and-a-half away a bus is hijacked and there are shocking scenes of violence, a pensioner verbally abused and the area left to wrack and ruin?
“It’s time to end the protests and allow the elected representatives to get together to develop a strategy on how we move forward. There is no strategy behind these protests and they are not furthering any cause.
“I am British and proud to be, but I don’t have to express my Britishness by burning a bus.”
Fellow Ulster Unionist councillor Mark Cosgrove described the violence at Cloughfern Corner as premeditated and said it was now the “end game” for peaceful protests.
He said: “The unionist people of Newtownabbey utterly reject the type of premeditated violence that was shown around the world on Friday night.
“It is not done in their name. There are probably pensioners, who fought proudly for the Union flag who will no longer be able to get the bus into Belfast as a result of this thuggery and Translink’s likely response.
“Quite what burning out a bus which serves the community and arriving with dozens of petrol bombs does to promote our British culture is baffling.
“The disgraceful decision to remove the Union flag at the City Hall in all but a handful of days can only be rectified by one form of direct action and that is, get registered and exercise your mandate for unequivocal pro-union candidates.”
He added: “In this part of Newtownabbey we have reached the end game regarding peaceful protests and I would call on all people of influence not to hold any more [protests].
“Peaceful protest, as I witnessed in Glengormley on Friday night, is a fundamental British right, but it is clear after the events of the last few weeks that in some places, un-British and completely unrepresentative elements are attaching themselves to them with the sole intention of violence.
“We have set up a forum to take the view of the entire unionist community and I am quite prepared to meet anyone to listen to their concerns and discuss constructive ways forward. All they have to do is pick up the phone or send me an email.”
The riot at Cloughfern was the second such flag protest related incident on the O’Neill Road after trouble broke close to Carnmoney Cemetery the previous week (January 4).
Since Belfast City Council made the decision to restrict the number of days its flies the Union flag at City Hall there have been numerous protests across the borough with rioting breaking out at a number of the demonstrations.
More stories and reaction in this week’s Times...