Loyalist rioters lose battle for the moral high ground

Posted By: August 13, 2013


On Friday afternoon the DUP’s Nelson McCausland released a statement urging loyalists to remain calm during protests against of the dissident republican parade.

He urged protestors “to deny those who espouse terrorism the PR coup they are hoping for”.

From long before the parade arrived in Belfast city centre it was clear that many loyalists were not listening to such advice.

About an hour before the parade was due to arrive, loyalists — who were far in excess of the 600 permitted — claimed that police pushed them back off Royal Avenue onto the pavements.

Within minutes police were under attack. An isolated PSNI vehicle was rocked by the crowd and nearly toppled; pavements were torn up and thrown at police; fireworks and smoke bombs — not typically carried by peaceful protesters — were hurled at police lines and bottles repeatedly rained down on the PSNI.

One PSNI officer appeared to be seriously injured by a brick, and was treated for half an hour before being stretchered away conscious but in a neck brace; other officers were injured, provoking cheers from the crowd. Several young men on top of a bus shelter behind police lines openly encouraged the rioters, urging them forward.

Some injured protesters emerged from the crowd at various points, one man with blood gushing from his head.

Later, officers were ordered to take ‘hard cover’ inside vehicles after claims a gas cylinder had been lit. A Russian policeman in Belfast for the World Police and Fire Games despaired as he watched on.

As the delayed dissident parade eventually passed the bottom of the Shankill, some loyalists may have thought they had achieved a type of victory by preventing it from entering Royal Avenue.

But the exultant cheers from the marchers as they passed showed that the participants knew who came out of this clash on top.

Whatever the anger at the provocation of the march, the Parades Commission decision to let it pass through the city centre or the police for their tactics, loyalists on Friday night lost any moral high ground they had prior to the march.

Some marchers hurled bottles aimed at protesters; others waved Tricolours provocatively as they danced past the Shankill. But the serious rioting came from elsewhere.

There was a dramatic irony as the dissident republican parade passed the bottom of the Shankill. Parade stewards with a keener sense for propaganda than their opponents moved in to stop several young men who wanted to attack a handful of temporarily isolated police officers.

Until now, it has been dissident republicans who have been most likely to kill a police officer. Not for the first time in recent months, on Friday night it was loyalists who came closest to that objective.