Mobs who launched frenzied attacks on police in Northern Ireland were accused yesterday of recreational rioting with a sinister edge.

Children as young as eight were at the heart of the riots surrounding Orange Order parades, which left 82 officers injured.

Armed with iron bars and wooden posts, masked rioters attacked police armoured vehicles and shield-wielding officers.

The swarming mobs also hurled petrol bombs, empty bottles and bricks and set cars on fire.

Police responded with water cannon and fired plastic bullets as they tried to disperse hundreds of protesters during the clashes, which raged for four hours in the nationalist Ardoyne area of north Belfast on Monday.

A woman officer had a concrete block thrown on to her head and was pelted with missiles by rioters as police colleagues and ambulance crews came to her aid at the height of the riot.

Yesterday she was in a stable condition in hospital.

She was the worst wounded of the 82 police officers to have been injured most of them sustained only cuts and bruises in Belfast and other towns over two nights of rioting sparked by the annual July 12 Orange marches.

Fifty-five officers were injured in Mondays disturbances. Northern Irelands Chief Constable Matt Baggott described the disturbances as recreational rioting with a sinister edge.

He accused dissident republicans opposed to the peace process of fomenting the violence.

While many of the rioters were teenagers, Mr Baggott said that some were as young as eight. Many would not have been born during the darkest days of the Troubles.

The violence erupted in Ardoyne as crowds targeted officers who had been trying to escort a planned Orange march past streets dividing loyalist and republican neighbourhoods.

Yesterday Mr Baggott called for a major debate on the controversial parades.

The Orange Order is the largest Protestant organisation in Northern Ireland.

A commission imposes restrictions on Orange marching routes to prevent them from passing most Roman Catholic districts, but officials have failed to negotiate alternative routes for some parades, including the one in Ardoyne.

Despite the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and a power-sharing coalition between the main political parties Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists age-old sectarian divides between Protestants and Catholics are as strong as ever.

The July 12 parades commemorate the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over the army of Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay criticised Northern Irelands First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for failing to provide leadership on ending tensions over the parades.

Mr Finlay asked: Are we seeing the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister stepping out to condemn this? I havent heard from them, I didnt hear from them before the Twelfth of July� we didnt see joined-up, strategic leadership from politicians who are entrusted and voted for by the community to deliver a cohesive society.

Meanwhile, Mr Baggott praised the superb restraint, superb professionalism and superb courage displayed by his officers during the rioting.

He highlighted their skill at stopping communities getting at each other and how they dealt with young children who were out there with no parental control lighting petrol bombs, and making sure that none of them were injured.

Mr Baggott added: Clearly the priority last night was to protect people. You can see why the tactics we adopted were taken.

It was very, very important that we held that line to stop people attacking each other, which is why the police officers stood in the middle of that, but we will now be launching a major investigation.

Exact figures were not yet available, but the violence would cost millions-of pounds the equivalent of a ward in a hospital� the equivalent of a primary school, he added.

Extensive video evidence will be analysed to try to identify the face of each rioter and bring them to justice, Mr Baggott said.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness issued a joint statement condemning the violence and defended their political efforts to ease tensions over the parades.

Mr Robinson said: There is no excuse and no place for violence in civilised society. Both the Deputy First Minister and I will continue, to work for a resolution of the difficulties around parading.

Mr McGuinness said: Our experience demonstrates that the way to deal with any disputes or contention is through dialogue and agreement. We are currently consulting on legislation that aims to provide a workable framework for dealing with contentious parades.

Published date on the 14th of July 2010
Article taken from the Mail Online


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