‘Around 550 attend protests’

Loyalists protest in Glengormley against restrictions on flying the union flag at Belfast City Hall. INNT 51-021-FP
Loyalists protest in Glengormley against restrictions on flying the union flag at Belfast City Hall. INNT 51-021-FP

POLICE have said over 500 people were involved in a number of flag protests across the borough on Monday night.

Demonstrations were held in Glengormley, Ballyclare, Cloughfern and Monkstown causing minor traffic disruption.

Minor trouble broke out in Monkstown for a short period on Monday night. Bins were dragged into the street and set on fire.

It’s believed the trouble was sparked after one motorist drove at protestors, narrowly missing one man. He was said to be left shaken by the incident.

A police spokesman said: “Police in Newtownabbey dealt with protests in a number of areas last night. Around 550 people attended.

“In Monkstown, a number of bins were set alight and a vehicle was damaged.

“Where roads were blocked, police placed diversions in an effort to keep disruption to a minimum. Officers engaged with protestors to identify leaders, however, at some locations none could be identified.

“Where appropriate, warnings were given to protestors about the legal implications of blocking roads.”

PUP activist Phil Hamilton appealed for protestors to act peacefully and respect their communities.

He said: “If people are intent on causing violence at these protests they should stay away.

“If there are to be any more protests they need to remain peaceful and also people should be mindful of their communities.

“I have heard businesses closed down early to avoid any potential trouble and I would encourage protestors to be mindful of those businesses in their area and how they contribute to the local economy.”

He went on: “While I was not there, I would also like to pay tribute to those PUP representative and community representatives who worked in Monkstown to ease tensions. The situation could have been much worse, but thankfully tensions were eased before any major damage was done.”

A number of protests have been held since Belfast City Council decided to restrict the number of days it flies the Union Flag at City Hall.

It’s believed Monday night’s demonstration was the last before the Christmas break, however, there are expected to be more protests in the New Year.

Ulster Unionist councillor John Scott appealed for calm. He said: “If people want to protest they should do so peacefully.

“I would call for people to step back and we can all sit down and work together to see where we can go from here.

“And it is sad to see the loyalist people doing the work of others by destroying their own communities while others sit back and watch.

“The police are there trying to do their job and at the end of the day they are the Crown forces and should not be attacked.”

The Macedon representative said that large numbers of people who covered their faces at the protests were putting others off taking part.

He added: “It’s intimidating. They see people covering their faces or wearing masks and fear there will be trouble.

“As we are an area that flies the flag 365 days a year I would expect us to have big numbers out, but we don’t because people are afraid of what might happen.

“I have been speaking with people in Glengormley who want to protest, but don’t believe they will always be peaceful so don’t join in.”