A commemoration for the Protestant Irishman and Republican Henry Joy McCracken, the founder of the United Irishmen, was attacked by a loyalist mob this evening, triggering a wave of rioting in north Belfast.
It was the second time the annual event, has been held.
Last weekend, the RUC/PSNI police ignored a decision of the Parades Commission ordering loyalist bands not to engaging in sectarian provocation outside the Catholic St Patrick’s church, near the nationalist Carrickhill area. A protest by nationalist residents was attacked by loyalists amid ugly scenes which have fuelled tensions throughout the week.
The commemoration this evening passed through the nationalist New Lodge and North Queen Street areas, before continuing past Carrickhill to Clifton Street cemetery, where the Irish patriot is buried.
While walking to the cemetery, participants came under a sustained attack from loyalists, including well known figures from within the paramilitary UVF, who had gathered from early morning.
Marchers were showered with a barrage of bricks, stones, golf balls and bottles. Several were badly injured, including children.
Inexplicably, the RUC/PSNI had allowed the loyalist mob to gather within metres of the agreed route, ensuring that an outbreak of violence was inevitable.
The March organisers said only the efforts of its stewards prevented large-scale hand-to-hand fighting after the mob were able to enter an apartment complex beside the Clifton Street cemetery. Throughout the ceremony, loyalists continued to attack those gathered and at one stage managed to scale the walls. At one point, a small child who was carrying a wreath was injured by a missile.
A North Belfast spokesperson blamed DUP Minister Nelson McCausland for bringing negative publicity to the McCracken commemoration in comments he posted on the internet during the week.
“It is our opinion that this is what has motivated elements within the Shankill UVF to organise today’s planned attack,” the group said. “By contrast, last year’s parade passed off without incident.”
Belfast RNU has stated we are an anti-sectarian organisation and were on our way to honour a fine protestant Irishman when we were attacked.
“It is unfortunate that today’s trouble took place at all. We will do all that we can to help ease any tensions in the area.”
Local nationalist youths became involved in sporadic clashes which have deteriorated into full-scale rioting tonight. Trouble is continuing at the Carlisle Circus and Clifton St areas.
The PSNI/RUC has deployed water-cannon to the area, but notably did not manage to prevent loyalists attacking a nursing home for old age pensioners at Carlisle Circus.
British Assembly member Fra McCann said a petrol-bomb attack on the home of a Catholic family earlier this evening was also linked to the trouble.
He said: “Only that the Housing Executive have put in place reinforced glass, this attack would have been even worse. There are five children who live in this house and this can only be described as attempted murder by those responsible.”
In what appears to be retaliation to the Catholic home being attacked an Orange Hall in north Belfast was also reported to have been vandalised during the disturbances.
The Shankill UVF leaders were given pride of place on Clifton Street’s Orange lodge which is also the sectarian Anti Catholic orders HQ Balcony, to watch and film their police force being attacked by their fellow sectarian thugs.