DERRY — Protestant loyalists attacked local police and British troops in Northern Ireland for a third day on Monday in clashes prompted after the authorities rerouted a planned Orange Order march.
Masked men and youths confronted police across Belfast and other towns, and extremists shot at police backed by British soldiers late on Sunday.
At least 50 police officers were hurt in the violence, which saw petrol bombs, blast bombs, and pipe bombs thrown at police.
After some of the worst violence in Northern Ireland since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, the blame-game is being played by all sides.
Hugh Order, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), apportioned much of the blame for the disturbances on the exclusively Protestant Orange Order.
“We did not call anyone onto the streets of Belfast and those that did must bear substantial responsibility for the disorder that became inevitable with the catalyst of the disputed march,” he said in a statement.
The violence came about after a controversial decision by the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland to reroute an Orange Order march away from a Catholic-nationalist road in west Belfast.
Rioting in Belfast on Saturday continued overnight into Sunday, and spread to a number of areas in nearby counties Antrim and Down.
Belfast’s most senior Orangeman, County Grand Master Dawson Bailie, said the Orange Order was not responsible for the weekend disorder.
“As far as I’m concerned, the people to blame for that are the Secretary of State, the chief constable, and the Parades Commission, fairly and squarely,” he said in a statement.
The rival unionist parties last week made a rare joint public appearance, as leaders Ian Paisley (Democratic Unionist Party, DUP) and Sir Reg Empey of Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) both met with the Parades Commission in advance of the re-routing of the march.
Since the weekend, Paisley has criticized the Parades Commission, saying that the commission’s officials “are to blame for the mess that has been created.”
Empey spoke on Monday about deprivation in loyalist communities, a perception that republicans/nationalists influence the government by the threat of force, and the “inconsistent actions and decisions” of a what unionists view as a discredited Parades Commission.
Northern Ireland Security Minister Shaun Woodward praised the police for their handing of the situation. Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said the violence was “a huge effort to intimidate nationalist communities, ”while US envoy to Northern Ireland Mitchell Reiss criticized the lack of unionist leadership over the weekend.
The violence comes just days after an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report on recent Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) violence was handed to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain.
Hain, the senior UK government minister in Northern Ireland, is expected to release the report in the coming days amid speculation that the UVF will be declared in breach of its ceasefire, which was first declared in 1994. This report comes after weeks of intra-loyalist violence, as UVF gangs drove rival Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) families from their homes in Belfast.Show