Loyalist rioting erupts in Belfast

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rioting and disorder erupted in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Saturday because of a controversial decision to reroute the Orange Order parade. Loyalists attacked the police and army with blast bombs (homemade grenades) and petrol bombs. There was widespread stone-throwing, and barricades were erected on some roads that caused traffic disruptions in the city. In some places, automatic gunfire was heard, with police returning live fire.

Half a dozen police were injured, and two men were taken to hospital — one with a gunshot wound, and another was caught in the blast of an explosion.

The parade route was altered by the Parades Commission. The intended path of the original parade route was through a Nationalist part of Springfield Road, with the potential to result in rioting and violence (the route would have had to pass through a 30 foot high security barrier, one of the "Peace Lines". Unionists called for the decision to be reconsidered by the Commission; however, no change was made. Instead of passing through Springfield Road, the Orange Order parade was required to proceed through the site of the engineering firm Mackies.

The streets of northern and western Belfast echoed with sounds of violence not commonly heard since the late 1990s and the Troubles. Petrol and blast bombs were used by rioters, and water cannon and plastic bullets were used by police. Several cars and a bus were hijacked, and roads were closed off by mobs of people. A number of buildings were set alight with fire around the outskirts of the city.

Throughout the night, violence spread to outlying towns around Belfast, including Ballymena, Ballyclare, Carrickfergus and Larne.

Police Chief Constable Hugh Orde described the rioting as perhaps the worst such situation ever seen in the United Kingdom - particularly because of the use of firearms in a public order situation. He controversially held the Orange Order responsible for the disorder, and complained about the politicians who called for people to protest. The Rev. Ian Paisley had threatened at the time of the parade rerouting decision by the Parades Commission that it "could be the spark which kindles a fire there would be no putting out".

The response of Unionist politicians has been to accuse the police of brutal and heavy-handed tactics. Hugh Orde has praised the police for being "heroes", and suggested that no other police force in the UK, Europe, and perhaps even the US has had to deal with such ferocity in a public order situation. Unionists described the Chief Constable's comments as "inflammatory".