Northern Ireland

Orange Order says police have questions to answer on riots

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Media captionAssistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said rioting was nothing other than 'an attempt to kill police officers'

The Orange Order has said the police have serious questions to answer over the weekend's rioting in Belfast.

Police have described the rioting in the Woodvale area of north Belfast as "attempted murder on officers".

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr also said policing this year's 12 July parades and subsequent violence had cost "multiple millions" of pounds.

In a statement, the Order said it had been consistent and unambiguous that violence had no place in protests.

Forty-four officers have been injured over three nights of rioting.

Officers were attacked in the Woodvale area of the city on Sunday night.

It followed more serious rioting on Friday and Saturday nights after a Parades Commission determination that a parade by three Orange lodges would not be allowed to march along a stretch of road that separates loyalist and nationalist communities on its return journey from the main Belfast 12 July demonstration.

The Orange Order said that the Parades Commission must bear responsibility for the rioting.

The statement said: "There will be the blame game and point scoring by all for the events that unfolded, however the Orange institution will not be scapegoated for where the responsibility for this crisis truly lies - at the door of the Parades Commission."

Alleged attacks

Image caption Police came under attack in North Belfast for a third night

It added: "The violence, which we condemn, cannot be used as an excuse for not addressing the issues that have been raised by this ludicrous determination, a shared future, community relations and nationalists' intolerance. Issues that require a political response and solution."

The Order claimed that the rioting on Friday began when police used water cannon and fired baton rounds into the crowd on the Woodvale Road without warning after stones had been thrown at police lines.

It said: "Those who had come for a peaceful protest were soaked and injured, leading to anger amongst many of those gathered."

The statement also detailed a number of alleged attacks on Orangemen in Belfast on 12 July, and a sustained attack on marchers in east Belfast from nationalists in the Short Strand area.

The Order said: "The PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) have serious questions to answer, not least, with so many police officers available, why were they unable to stop clearly orchestrated attacks."

The Parades Commission, which makes rulings on contentious parades in Northern Ireland, said there was "no inevitability to violence after any determination".

Image caption The PSNI showed damage to one officers helmet, caused by a ceremonial sword

"All civic leaders should use moderating rather than inflammatory language," the commission said in a statement.

"In Derry/Londonderry, the flagship Orange Order parade, which was part of the UK City of Culture celebrations passed off peacefully and with a relatively normal trading day throughout the city.

"This occurred because of good local leadership and a sustained and genuine dialogue that built up relationships and trust.

"In Belfast a similar example of leadership and dialogue is needed," the statement added.

"In our determination we set out a clear route map for Ardoyne which we hope people will come back to. Dialogue needs to start now, looking at the rest of this summer and ahead to 2014.

"If there is a genuine willingness to talk we can break the cycle of pain and blame that has become so commonplace each year at just a few locations."

A Democratic Unionist delegation, including MLAs from north and east Belfast, met senior police officers to discuss the weekend's events.

After the 90-minute meeting, Nelson McCausland said: "The right of peaceful protest, the sort of protest the Orange Order has advocated and called for, is fundamental in any democratic society.

"Yes, the people who throw bricks or missiles are wrong but so are the Parades Commission."

Mr McCausland said the meeting "particularly focused on attacks by republicans on parades in east Belfast, on the Newtownards Road, south Belfast and also on a number of occasions in north Belfast."

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Media captionDUP MLA Nelson McCausland has said the right of protest is 'fundamental in any democratic society'

"The use of plastic bullets and water cannon must be and will be investigated by the police ombudsman.

"We also raised the behaviour of Gerry Kelly, climbing on a Land Rover."

Sunday night's trouble followed an earlier stand-off involving loyalists, some Orangemen and police at Twaddell Avenue.

The disturbances started just before midnight. They were sporadic and lasted for less than an hour.

It started with a small number of petrol bombs being thrown by a crowd of youths along the Woodvale Road, where the Orange Order was blocked by police from walking up on Friday, and the scene of more intense rioting on the previous two nights.

An officer was injured when police went in to seize a stash of petrol bombs and they briefly came under attack.

In a separate incident, five people - all male - aged between 15 and 25 were arrested following violence in the O'Neills Road area of Newtownabbey, County Antrim.

There was also some minor trouble in the loyalist Mount Vernon area of north Belfast.

'Stay off the streets'

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said Sunday night's violence was not as severe as on the previous nights.

"People just need to be calm and they just need to stay off the streets for the next few nights," he said.

"There is a volatility out there that's very obvious to the people who have been on the streets of north Belfast.

"If you bring people out onto the streets, you need to have calm and you need to have control and we didn't see either of those things over the weekend.

"We will continue to make arrests over the next few nights and we will put courts on every single day if we need to."

He said there was no evidence of paramilitary involvement.

Speaking about Friday night's violence, Mr Kerr said: "The behaviour at Woodvale Road was animalistic - our officers that hold the line up there acted with extreme professionalism in the face of violence.

"Fireworks and petrol bombs were thrown, ceremonial swords were used and these can only be seen as attempts to kill police officers and that is unacceptable from anyone.

"Some of these attacks can only be seen as attempted murder on officers."

The police said that 53 petrol bombs had been thrown during the rioting, and that they had recovered another 30.

Forty-nine arrests have been made, with 22 people having been charged and having appeared in court so far.

He also said that more mutual aid officers from other UK forces would be drafted in if needed.

"To put this into context the cost of last year's Twelfth was £7.4m and the flags protest cost more than £20m.

"We are already in multiple millions for this year's Twelfth and the subsequent violence."

The Irish deputy Prime Minister, Eamonn Gilmore, has condemned attacks on police officers during the trouble in Belfast.

He said on Monday that support must be given to the police and the Parades Commission.

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