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Police 'letting down' nationalists: Adams

Published 14/01/2013




THE PSNI were yesterday accused of "letting down" residents in the nationalist Short Strand after homes were attacked by loyalist rioters returning from a flags protest on Saturday.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who visited the east Belfast interface yesterday, warned that someone could be killed if loyalist protests continued.

A number of homes were attacked and windows were smashed by loyalists on Saturday afternoon.

Frightened residents spent yesterday surveying the damage as workmen boarded up windows broken after they were attacked by loyalists throwing bricks and other missiles.

For a brief period there was hand-to-hand fighting after nationalist youths and home-owners attempted to defend their district.

Despite a heavy police presence the PSNI initially struggled to contain the trouble before eventually clearing loyalists from the area.

Debris was clearly visible yesterday as Mr Adams walked around Short Strand and spoke with residents whose homes were targeted.

Sinn Fein said Saturday's incident was the 15th time that an illegal loyalist procession has passed Short Strand since the flag protests began.

Loyalists are angry after Belfast City Council voted to limit the flying of a Union flag at the city hall from 365 days a year to just 18 designated days.

Up to 1,000 people gathered out- side Belfast City Hall in protest at the decision on Saturday.

Police and community representatives in Short Strand had expected protesters from loyalist parts of east Belfast to return home via Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and Middlepath Street taking them away from the nationalist enclave.

However, a large crowd of masked youths, some carrying Union flags, broke away and returned along Albertbridge Road taking them straight past nationalist homes.

Mr Adams accused the PSNI of "facilitating" illegal loyalist protests.

"The people of the Short Strand were let down by the PSNI and let's be very clear about this, the people in the Short Strand would not have an awful lot of confidence in the PSNI to start with," he said.

"But what they do have is a certain faith that things will get better and that we can have decent and proper civic policing.

"The PSNI have to police in a fair way right across this community, and it isn't just republicans and nationalists are concerned that there appears to be a facilitation of illegality so that has to stop."

The Sinn Fein leader also warned that continuing protests could result in a loss of life.

"I don't want to minimise what is happening but it has been very local," he said.

"Thankfully no-one has been killed although I do think there is potential all the time out of any of these events for a police officer, for a citizen, for a protester or an innocent resident being killed or injured."

Chief Constable Matt Baggott has continued to defend the policing operation and praised his officers after another night of rioting in east Belfast.

Twenty-nine officers were injured in violent clashes with loyalist protesters on Saturday.

Dozens of officers, backed up by water cannon, faced a loyalist mob for several hours during which six plastic bullets were fired.

Mr Baggott said his officers acted with "professionalism".

"This was a difficult operation dealing with a large number of people determined to cause disorder and violence," he said.

"My colleagues brought the situation under control with exceptional courage and professionalism. I know the vast majority of people will be grateful for their efforts.

"Police will continue to engage with all those committed to finding a solution to these issues."

Since loyalist flag protests began in early December, 99 police officers have been injured.

So far 111 people have been arrested and 85 people charged.

■ VISIT: Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, with party colleagues Caral Ni Chuilin and Gerry Kelly, visits Short Strand yesterday PICTURE: Cliff Donaldson

■ ATTACKED: A workman starts to repair houses in Short Strand which were damaged by loyalists over the weekend

PICTURE:

Cliff Donaldson