Union flag protests cost police over £7m


Julian O'Neill reports for BBC Newsline on a fifth consecutive night of rioting linked to flag protests in Belfast

The cost of policing flag protests in Northern Ireland since they began early last month is believed to be over £7m.

It has been confirmed that the cost of policing protests and dealing with disorder during the first two weeks, from 3 to 17 December, was £3.8m.

Policing has remained largely the same since, apart from a holiday lull.

The figure was revealed as police came under attack with petrol bombs and fireworks for a sixth night in east Belfast.

Bricks and bottles have also been thrown by loyalists in Templemore Avenue, off the Lower Newtownards Road.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it could not comment on the final cost because it did not have up to date figures.

Police and loyalist protesters at Templemore Avenue The trouble in east Belfast on Tuesday evening was not on the scale of the previous five nights

A campaign of street demonstrations started just over a month ago, when Belfast councillors voted on 3 December to limit the days when the union flag flies over Belfast City Hall.

Earlier on Monday, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said Northern Ireland was being "held to ransom by protesters".

She called for an end to all street demonstrations over flags - even peaceful protests - following a fifth night of rioting in east Belfast.

Rioters used hatchets, sledgehammers and petrol bombs to attack police and their vehicles on Newtownards Road.

The PSNI fired plastic bullets and used water cannon in response.

'Profoundly depressing'

Speaking on BBC Radio, Ms Villiers said: "It's not acceptable that those who say they are defending a union flag are actually doing it by hurling bricks and petrol bombs at police. It's disgraceful, frankly."

The secretary of state described the continuing rioting as "profoundly depressing" and said she was "fully supportive of the great efforts the PSNI are making to crack down robustly on those who continue to break the law".

She called for the protests to "come off the streets" in order to allow local politicians to hold all-party talks over flags and emblems.

"We will not be able to get a solution if Belfast and Northern Ireland are being held to ransom by protesters," she said.

Three police officers were injured and eight people were arrested on Monday night, bringing the total number of arrests since the flag protests began to 104.

Four people were later charged in relation to the violence and appeared in court on Monday.

"All these protests have to stop altogether, even the peaceful protests are causing disruption and even they are making it far more difficult to have a proper dialogue to resolve these kinds of issues," Ms Villiers said.

'National security'

She added: "Not only is it disgraceful in terms of injuries to police officers and people who live in the areas affected by the riots, it's also doing huge damage to Northern Ireland's image abroad".

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Vernon Coaker said the riots had become a matter of "national security" after the police said senior loyalist paramilitaries had been involved in the rioting.

Mr Coaker told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme: "That makes it, as far as I'm concerned an issue of national security and I think we need, and the secretary of state will need, to make an assessment of what the chief constable has said about that and what needs to be done."

The Labour MP also said the Westminster government had a continuing responsibility to support the Northern Ireland peace process and he condemned the latest violence.

Ms Villiers said the situation was having a "devastating impact on Northern Ireland's image abroad"

"People may disagree with decisions that are taken but in a democracy you cannot have violence on the streets as a way of trying to bring about change to those decisions.

"The first rule of any democracy, the first rule of any political leader is actually to say that violence is totally unacceptable and cannot be justified and in that sense in London, and indeed in Stormont, we stand with the PSNI and those who are trying to prevent the violence from occurring," Mr Coaker said.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has again called for the protests and rioting to end.

"The disruption to traders not just in Belfast City Centre, but in East Belfast is becoming extremely serious," said NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts.

"Many of the areas in east Belfast are crying out for new jobs and private sector investment which is not going to happen while rioting and violence continue.

"This is a political problem and can only be resolved by politics and we would urge all of our political leaders to go the extra mile to resolve the flag issue and other grievances and above all to take this problem off the street"

Water cannon have been used during a fifth night of rioting in east Belfast Water cannon were used during a fifth night of rioting in east Belfast

Monday night was the first time the council met since the vote was passed in December.

Up to 400 people attended what police described as a "largely peaceful" protest outside the building between 18:00 and 19:00 GMT.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has designated 18 days on which the union flag is flown in Northern Ireland in 2013. It may also be flown during the opening and closing of Parliament by the Queen.


*Source Department of Culture, Media and Sport and subject to review

9 January

Birthday of The Duchess of Cambridge

20 January

Birthday of The Countess of Wessex

6 February

Her Majesty's Accession

19 February

Birthday of The Duke of York

10 March

Birthday of The Earl of Wessex

11 March

Commonwealth Day (second Monday in March)

17 March

St Patrick's Day (in Northern Ireland only)

21 April

Birthday of Her Majesty The Queen

9 May

Europe Day

2 June

Coronation Day

10 June

Birthday of The Duke of Edinburgh

15 June

Official Celebration of Her Majesty's Birthday

21 June

Birthday of The Duke of Cambridge

17 July

Birthday of The Duchess of Cornwall

15 August

Birthday of The Princess Royal

10 November

Remembrance Day (second Sunday)

14 November

Birthday of The Prince of Wales

20 November

Her Majesty's Wedding Day

Opening of Parliament by HM The Queen

Closing of Parliament by HM The Queen


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  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    45% of people in Northern Ireland don't vote. We have no decent, honourable leaders. Until people of integrity and vision come forward we're stuck with this mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    It is sad that this is the only part of the UK that shows pride in the flag.
    Whilst not condoning violence it is understandable that the UK citizens of Ulster are upset that we are sleep walking into handing over their country to the republic.
    It would be wonderful to see Cameron defend Ulster in the same way he promises - probably all hot air - to defend the Falklands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    People on the mainland do not demand Union flags be flown all the time. In Scotland, England & Wales, it is the individuals' nations flags we normally see now, not the Union Jack. Why can't everyone in Ulster get around their own flag? The aggressive Unionists created the problem. Who in the mainland behaves so ridiculously about any kind of flag? No-one but prolish football hooligans!

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Some people clearly have nothing better to do. I know it's all about history and the meaning behind the flags but if a country keeps living in the past and holding grudges it cannot move forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    People need to wake up and accept that NI is moving forward and as part of this process feelings with get hurt people will get angry its a fact of life you can't always have what you want. Both sides will never be happy.This is more than loyalism and republicanism, Northern Ireland is becoming a more diverse society and its about time people wise up and accept it and get over the past!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    If Scotland gets independence, the Union Flag will become obsolete, then what?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    @SwampPuppet - ‘People are proud of where they come from’? Please don’t generalise. Some of us find the concept of having any kind of emotion about coming from a place rather bewildering, particularly when it reaches the point that people are prepared to physically attack other human beings for not having the same kind of emotions they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It is just an excuse they will fight over anything

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    My local town hall doesn't feel the need to fly the Union Flag every day and as yet I haven't seen a bunch of deranged nutters rioting over it's absence!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Northern Ireland is being "held to ransom by protesters" in the union flag dispute and all street demonstrations should end, NI Secretary Theresa Villiers says

    Loyalists are PRO Brit, nationalists are ANTI-BRIT - basically Argentinains with a funny accent.

    Apparantly, UK government will protect rights of Falklanders to fly Union Flag, but not those in N Ireland who want to remain BRITISH

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.


    Nothern Ireland is part of the UK. They should be allowed to fly the flag."

    They are. On the same basis as the rest of the UK they claim to be "loyal" to.

    "Why are people being fired upon for wishing to fly the flag of their nation?"

    They're not. They are being fired upon for engaging in riotous and criminal acts rather than using accepted political process to resolve disputes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The Union flag for some represents repression, however this decision at this time without checking with all those living in this region was a miscalculation, in terms of potential harm to lives & inevitable costs please change this decision, NOW.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I wonder how many are actually out there with political views? How many are on the streets rioting under the guise of this. Also please get it into perspective. It is a flag, that is it.It is not being taken down permanently. I know they did try to fly the Ulster flag previously and that didn't suit the loyalists either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Northern Ireland is part of the UK there should be no restrictions on flying the flag. Why should people whose loyalties obviously lie outside the UK be allowed to make such decisions? The flag should be restored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Grow up people.

    You have your own flag.

    Fly your own flag proudly.

    Get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Doesn't Northern Ireland have a flag of its own, as they have in Wales or Scotland? If not, design one and fly that from official buildings, as often happens in these other parts of Britain. I fail to see why anyone would have a problem with that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    In the words of bill hicks:

    "My daddy died for that flag"
    "Oh, my daddy bought ours"
    "My daddy died in Korea for that flag"
    "That's funny - mine was made in Korea"

    It's a flag for gods sake - grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I'm torn on this one. The council's decision surely showed a complete lack of foresight into how people would react, but the violence on Belfast's streets is damaging the economic credibility of a region only just emerging from the shadow of the the Troubles. I do think de Villiers' declaration that peaceful protest should stop is unhelpful;is she saying the right to peaceful protest should end?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Here we go again.


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