Three police officers have escaped injury in a bomb attack in Northern Ireland. Police have confirmed that a report of a blast near officers on patrol in north Belfast on Saturday night was caused by an explosive device. They said they are treating it as a murder attempt.
The incident happened at approximately 9.15pm on Saturday as officers, responding to a call-out in the Hazelbank area, made their way along the Duncrue towpath near the M5 motorway. A blast went off close to the officers, prompting a security alert.
The area was sealed off for more than 24 hours as searches were carried out by police and army bomb disposal experts. A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said: “It is believed the target was police officers and police are now treating it as attempted murder.”
Loyalists have bombarded police with pieces of heavy masonry, petrol bombs and bricks in a fifth night of violence in east Belfast, as the loyalist dispute over flying the union flag raged on.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) responded with plastic baton rounds and water cannon to quell the trouble, which erupted after a protest rally at city hall against the council’s policy only to fly the union flag on 17 designated days.
Just like the weekend, there are conflicting claims over the origins of the violence, with local loyalists claiming they came under attack first.
At one stage, there were clashes between loyalists and nationalists at the sectarian interface close to the Short Strand at Castlereagh Street and the Albertbridge Road earlier on Monday evening. Barricades were also set alight on the lower Newtownards Road while golf balls and petrol bombs were hurled at PSNI riot squad officers. Police also received reports of an attempted car hijacking in the Templemore Avenue area and an attempted lorry hijacking in the Albertbridge Road area.
Four people - two men and two women - were arrested on Monday, bringing the numbers detained connected to disorder since the protest began last month to more than 100.
Earlier, petrol bombs were thrown at police lines further into east Belfast at Dundonald on the Newtownards Road. A car was also set alight in the same area.
A foiled attempt to murder a police officer in Northern Ireland was carried out by dissident republicans who could also have killed his family, police said.
The Belfast-based Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) constable was about to take his wife and two young children out for Sunday lunch yesterday when he checked under his car outside his house in the city and discovered a viable device.
Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “If that officer had not checked under his car we would have been looking at a murder or multiple murders.”
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford condemned those responsible.
“Fortunately, due to the officer’s commendable vigilance, the attempt on his life was not successful,” he said.
Link: Belfast Telegraph
The Alliance Party is the only non-sectarian party in Northern Ireland. Belfast no longer has a majority for the Unionists (it used to), and there aren’t enough nationalists to form a majority on the City Council. Councillors are part-time local politicians; most of them will attend a couple of meetings a week and do a full-time job as well.
Belfast City Hall flies the Union Jack every day. Most councils on the British mainland only fly the flag on flag days (17 days a year: birthdays of senior royals, Queen’s official birthday, the national day of the country they are in - ie St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Coronation Day, Commonwealth Day, etc. The day that TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby is born will be an extra flag day)
The nationalist parties pushed for the Union Jack not to be flown - they see it as the flag of the colonial power. The unionists want to keep it up every day. Alliance brokered a compromise to only fly on flag days, and went with the nationalists to support it, and then voted with the unionists to stop the nationalists going beyond that.
The unionist parties accused Alliance of wanting to “rip” the flag down, made comparisons to the flag going down in the Falklands when they were invaded by Argentina, and generally whipped up as much hatred as possible.
The result: threats of violence, attacks on people’s homes, mass protests. Individual Alliance councillors have been literally besieged in their homes, have had windows smashed. One has already fled her home for a police safe house.
Over changing the days that flags are flown on City Hall.
Quick primer on Northern Ireland for those who have forgotten, or are too young.
Ireland became independent of Britain in 1922. At the time, the majority of people in the north were protestants and favoured retaining the union with Britain (so they are Unionists). Six counties in the North were carved out of Ireland and kept as part of Britain. This is Northern Ireland. In 1922, about 2/3 of the population was Protestant (mostly Presbyterians) and loyal; about 1/3 was Catholic (they mostly favour the Irish Republic, and are known as nationalists or republicans). Today, that’s more like 50-40, with about 10% being non-religious (and a tiny fraction following other religions). It’s had negligible immigration in the last century, so is virtually 100% white.
Northern Ireland had it’s own parliament until 1972, but it was gerrymandered by the unionists. There were Civil Rights marches by the catholic minority in the sixties, which turned into violence. The British Army was sent in as peace-keepers and got dragged into fighting the war. In 1972, the NI Parliament was abolished, and Direct Rule was imposed from London. The Troubles, from 1967 to 1997, killed 3,254 people.
A compromise peace now means that the NI Parliament is back, isn’t gerrymandered, and there is a government shared between the most hardline of the Unionist parties (the DUP) and the representatives of the Republican ex-terrorists (Sinn Fein). If you can imagine Likud and Hamas in coalition to keep Fatah and Labor/Kadima out of power, then that’s what Northern Ireland looks like. And yes, it’s every bit as weird as that analogy makes it sound.
Not for the first time, not even for the first time this year, north Belfast is engulfed in sectarian riots. Why is this still happening, 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement supposedly sealed the deal on peace?
For three consecutive nights this week, embittered loyalists clashed with police, resulting in injuries to more than 60 officers. The proximate cause of this latest outburst of street violence was that loyalists objected to a republican parade. In recent months, and previous years, the brick has often been in the other hand, with republicans attacking police in response to loyalist marches. Many expect further trouble later this month when loyalists will march to commemorate the 1912 signing of the anti-Home Rule Ulster Covenant.
Riots are obviously problematic. But the deeper problem is the question of what it is that makes rioting an almost productive activity in Northern Ireland today; the answer is not a comfortable one.
Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness described the riots as ‘a terrible display of bigotry and sectarianism’. And no doubt they were. Yet what McGuinness and his fellow political leaders fail to recognise is that sectarianism is built into the very fabric of the peace process that brought the war in Northern Ireland to an end and which now governs this part of the United Kingdom.
For those not familiar with the argot of the peace process, when McGuinness attacks sectarianism he is is only talking about the bad, stone-throwing, street-fighting sectarianism of certain communities; he is not talking about the same sectarianism that is entrenched by the ‘peace process’ itself and which, under the name of cultural diversity, infuses the governing structures of the Northern Ireland Assembly itself.
Police in Northern Ireland fired plastic bullets and water cannon on rioters late on Monday in a second night of sectarian clashes between Catholics and Protestants that have injured dozens of police officers.
Police fired controversial plastic rounds for the first time during the disturbances after protesters threw Molotov cocktails, fireworks, bricks and stones at officers trying to separate rival groups in north Belfast.
Rioters from the Protestant group hijacked a van at one point and pushed it at police lines. At least three of the injured officers were taken to a hospital.
Riots often erupt during the summer months when Protestant groups hold traditional parades that are seen as provocative by nationalists, who want to be part of a united Ireland, and Catholics.
The second night of disturbances over the last week followed a parade by Catholic Irish nationalists in an area where Protestant groups were recently barred from marching.
A masked member of the Real IRA at a republican Easter commemoration ceremony in Derry. The Real IRA is merging with other dissident groups in an escalation of the threat of violence against security forces. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Three of the four main dissident republican terror groups in Northern Ireland are to merge and reclaim the banner of the IRA, in an escalation of attempts to de-stabilise power sharing.
The Real IRA has been joined by Republican Action Against Drugs, which has been running a violent vigilante campaign in Derry, and a coalition of independent armed republican groups - leaving only the Continuity IRA outside the new group.
In a statement released to the Guardian, the new organisation claimed it had formed a “unified structure, under a single leadership”. It said the organisation would be “subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army”.
Protesters have been out on the street in Belfast for the past two days in advance of an annual parade tomorrow. NewsHour special correspondent Kira Kay looks at the ongoing religious tensions 14 years after Ireland’s sectarian conflict formally ended.
KIRA KAY: It’s a compelling sight: the parades that wind their way down the Shankill Road in the heart of Belfast’s Protestant community.
This parade is one of the first of the so-called marching season, when during the summer months, Protestant Northern Ireland residents loyal to the United Kingdom commemorate a series of historic moments. The largest takes place tomorrow, July 12, honoring Protestant King William’s victory over his Catholic rival in 1690.
Wesley McCreedy has been marching the Shankill Road for 50 years.
WESLEY MCCREEDY, Marcher: It’s very much important the way of the Shankill Road. The Shankill Road are a very loyal people, a very worthwhile people, and they all stick together.
WOMAN: That’s what I was brought up to believe in, too. It’s my culture.
KIRA KAY: For Joanne Harrison and her husband, Tommy, the parades are a family tradition, but also a matter of self-preservation.
MAN: Have to keep the culture going.
WOMAN: Have to keep it going. We have to keep walking. It’s the queen’s road. It’s the queen’s highway
KIRA KAY: You have to keep it going, why?
WOMAN: Well, if we don’t, the other side is going to take over.
KIRA KAY: The other side she refers to are the Catholics living just a few blocks away. The Shankill is virtually encircled by Catholic neighborhoods.
A bomb thrown at a Northern Ireland police station has been found near a children’s playground, police have said.
The viable pipe bomb was discovered near the park in Strabane in Co Tyrone on Thursday after the Police Service of Northern Ireland received a telephone warning that a device thrown at the town’s police station the previous day had failed to explode.
Chief Inspector Andy Lemon said a child could easily have been injured.
“Had a young child lifted this, this device was so large, it doesn’t bear thinking about,” he said.
“The threat in this area has been severe for some time, and the officers are carrying out a number of security checks.
A 26-year-old man arrested in Scotland in connection with the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr has been brought to Northern Ireland.
Mr Kerr, 25, was killed when a car bomb exploded in Omagh on Saturday.
The man was detained in Dumbartonshire on Wednesday afternoon and will be questioned by detectives investigating the murder of the PSNI officer.
Police have said the arrest is linked to a weapons find in the Coalisland area of east Tyrone on Tuesday evening.
Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton of Strathclyde police said the arrest was made at the request of the PSNI.