Belfast flags trouble: PSNI chief says senior UVF members are involved

Belfast: UVF involved in flag protests, says chief constable

The PSNI chief constable has confirmed that individual, senior loyalist paramilitaries have been involved in orchestrating violence during union flag protests in east Belfast.

Matt Baggott said there was "no excuse whatsoever" for violence.

He said if protests continued in the long term, day-to-day policing would be affected.

This included his officers' ability to deal with the threat from dissident republicans, he added.

The chief constable was speaking after his officers faced a fourth consecutive night of loyalist violence over a decision to limit the days the union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.

The first of those designated flag days will be Wednesday 9 January, the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday. Belfast City Council is to meet for the first time on Monday night since the 3 December vote.

The chief constable confirmed that since the flag protests began, 96 people have been arrested, including a "significant number" of young people.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott saw ''youngsters aged 10 and 11'' on the streets during protests

Mr Baggott said he was concerned that children as young as 10 were becoming involved in rioting.

He said many were out on the streets "without parental control" and were at risk of "blighting their own future".

"At a time when we are working desperately hard with the Tourist Board, investment agencies, foreign investors, to present the right picture of Northern Ireland as a place that's worthy of investment, many of those young people who may benefit from that will now have convictions," he said.

On Sunday night, a protest took place near the nationalist Short Strand area of Belfast. Later, as hundreds of protesters went up Castlereagh Street bricks, barriers and bottles were thrown at police.

Mr Baggott told a press conference on Monday: "I am concerned that senior members of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) in east Belfast - as individuals - have been increasingly orchestrating some of this violence.

"That is utterly unacceptable and is being done for their own selfish motives. There is no excuse whatsoever for violence, as we've said, and we will be investigating that and taking the appropriate action."

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) which has links with the UVF, said he intended to hold talks with the group.

"If this is the chief constable's assessment, then what I am saying to people in east Belfast, people belonging to the UVF, please desist from being involved in violence," he said.

"My understanding, having talked to the leadership, is that there are no splits and what I am saying is that the PUP and others will talk to the UVF in east Belfast in and around the problems that exist."

Meanwhile, a 38-year-old man who was arrested during more widespread trouble on Saturday has been charged with possession of a gun, riotous behaviour and refusing to remove a disguise.

He is due to appear at Belfast Magistrate's Court on Monday.

A 52-year-old man is also due before the same court, charged with disorderly behaviour in connection with the trouble in the city.

Injured

The BBC's Chris Buckler speaks to members of the public in one of the areas affected by violence over the union flag.

A campaign of street protests have taken place since the Belfast City Council vote.

The BBC's Chris Buckler said most of the demonstrations had been peaceful. Community and political leaders met on Sunday to discuss how the trouble could be brought to an end.

Reverend Mervyn Gibson organised the meeting.

"People have been injured and a lot of properties have been damaged. We need to get it stopped as quickly as possible," Mr Gibson said.

"People are putting their minds to this, people are trying their best to see how do we do that.

"People are fearful and that's what we want to address, get back to some sort of normality here in east Belfast."

But one of those at the meeting, Democratic Unionist Party assembly member Robin Newton, said a lack of engagement from the protest organisers was making it difficult to see an end to the unrest.

Our correspondent added the political make-up of the council means the decision over the union flag would not be reversed and it is not even clear if councillors will discuss the issue when they gather on Monday night.

Some 62 officers have been injured since the protests began.

Locations of recent violence in Belfast Areas which have been recently hit by violence in the City Hall flag row

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