Police tactics need to change

By Ciara Quinn

RESIDENTS of the Short Strand say they are angry at the PSNI for not doing enough to protect their homes after another week of trouble in the area.

To date 16 illegal, unfiled for parades have taken place past the nationalist enclave in East Belfast. The world’s media watched as violence flared on Saturday afternoon when loyalists protestors returned from the City Hall, fought with residents along the Lower Newtownards Road interface before exchanging bricks, bottles and stones.

On  Monday evening loyalists threw petrol bombs at St Matthew’s church at the same time as children with special needs were gathered at the church hall.

Sinn Féin Councillor for the area Niall Ó Donnghaile told the Andersonstown News that the PSNI have a role to play in protecting the area – but that they failed miserably on Saturday.

Locals say the tension is unbearable in the area and something needs to be done to stop the rioting and the illegal parades.

“What happened over the weekend cannot be taken in isolation. Since December 3 there have been 16 illegal parades taking place that have gone past this area on the way into the City Hall and on the way back.

“People have been holding illegal roadblocks and protests at the interface – anybody that has heard me on the TV and radio will have heard me saying would someone within unionism or loyalism give me a rationale or explanation as to why that is happening as the only reason I can see is to heighten tension here.”

There has been claim and counterclaim over the police handling of the loyalist parade past Short Strand on Saturday.

“What we saw on Saturday, and what was understood, was that there was an understanding in place from local reps here in the Short Strand, reps in loyalists area and the PSNI that the protest would return from the City Hall via the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, up Middlepass Street and up the Newtownards Road. That is the route that the Twelfth parades take, the Covenant parade took and majority of parades take during the marching season – there was a consensus that in order to take some of the sting out of the past couple of weeks, in order to take the protest away from a good chunk of the Short Strand it would go up Middlepass Street – that was the operation that the PSNI put in place.

“Seemingly when protestors returning didn’t get their own way over, the way they wanted – they came running over past the Market area first, then over the Albertbridge and attacked homes here,” he said.

“This is ABC policing – it isn’t rocket science. With all of the extensive CCTV footage, the helicopter which is now more or less flying permanently over this area, if the PSNI aren’t able to see or predict that a big faction breaking away from an illegal parade wouldn’t result in what happened here on Saturday it is a serous failure on their part.”

Cllr Ó Donnghaile said the petrol bomb attack which saw a special needs group forced to flee from St Matthews Parish Hall on Monday night was nothing more than “a blatant, well planned and organised sectarian attack on this community.”

“It had nothing to do with flags or identity. It is an attempt by unionists to intimidate a small Catholic community.

“The PSNI instead of dealing with the crowd attacking homes on Strand Walk instead moved against myself and other community leaders trying to maintain calm within the Short Strand and forced us down Bryson Street using considerable force.

“It is clear that there are some within unionism who feel that the way out of the current mess they have gotten themselves into is to attack Catholic communities along interfaces. Monday’s attack came after the stone throwing on Saturday and wholesale intimidation of this community over the past five weeks – it is unacceptable. We need to hear unequivocal condemnation from local unionist leaders, not the sort of excuses for violence we have had to listen to in recent weeks.”

A Short Strand resident who did not want to be named said people are frightened of the ongoing attacks on their homes.

“I’ve lived in the Short Strand for nearly 30 years and on Monday night it was really bad. I heard a lot of shouting out in the street and the next thing petrol bombs, bricks and stones were coming over the road.

“The so-called protestors are just getting to do what they want with no respect for anybody or anybody’s property. They aren’t listening to anybody,” he said.

Sinn Féin MLA Jennifer McCann, who along with MLA’s Alex Maskey and Gerry Kelly, met with PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the PSNI need to take robust action to both defend the residents of Short Strand and to deal with law-breakers.

“Our delegation told the PSNI Chief Constable that he needs to be resolute in both protecting the community at Short Strand and in dealing law-breakers.

“We expressed our deep concern at the way the PSNI handled the situation on Saturday and that the crowd was able to get near the Short Strand.

“The fact that all there have been mass illegal protests and parades was emphasised to Matt Baggott and that a tactical change is needed to deal with this.”

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