POLICE have condemned the “orchestrated violence” after Monday night’s vote to only fly the Union flag on designated days.
A protest organsied by the shadowy United Protestant Voice turned ugly when a mob attacked the City Hall and police officers.
Belfast Daily revealed on Monday that this group was bringing in supporters from across Northern Ireland to protest.
However, police said it had no intelligence that violence was going to break out.
And around 7.45 pm the first wave of violence started at the back gate of Belfast City Hall as fireworks and golf balls rained down on police.
Masked men – from a group calling itself ‘The Wolf Packs’ – stormed the gates of the City Hall injurig a security guard.
In all 15 police officers were injured during rioting at Belfast City Hall on Monday night after a vote to change the council’s policy of flying the Union flag all year round at the building.
Two security guards and a photographer were also hurt along with a teenage girl.
Associated Press photographer Peter Morrison said he TWICE identified himself to police but was still beat around the head and had with batons. He was taken to hospital for treatment for his injuries.
Later, a crowd attacked St Matthews Church in the Short Strand and homes in Strand Walk.
Loyalists said they were first attacked by republican youths as the head along the Albertbridge Road.
They also said homes in Cluan Place were also attacked by nationalists.
Police officers were attacked with bottles and bricks in the Albertbridge Road and Templemore Avenue areas.
Two attempts were made by loyalists to hijack buses but failed.
First Minister Peter Robinson condemned the violence but said the decision to remove the flag was “provocative”.
In a statement, the DUP leader said: “There is no excuse or justification for attacks on police officers, council staff, and property.”
However, Mr Robinson added: “The decision to pursue the removal of the flag from city hall and other council buildings, despite warnings of the likely consequential impact on community relations, was foolish and provocative.
“Those who talk most about building community relations have by their actions in the council substantially damaged relations across the city.”
Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said the police operation had been completely inadequate.
“I have to say, and I don’t use these words unless I really mean them, it was a disgraceful police operation, or lack of a police operation,” he said.
“If that had been 1,000 or more republicans out there they would not have left it that they were able to come into the back of city hall.”
However, Chief Superintendent Alan McCrum said: “We put in place last night a considered police operation, a substantial police operation – there were dozens, in fact scores of police officers deployed there.”
“I had a choice last night, I could have put a ring of steel around the city hall last night, I could have put 400 or 500 officers, but three weeks out from Christmas is that the image we want to put out if Belfast.
“There was nothing to suggest last night that there was going to be serious violence.”
He added: “Put the responsibility on the people who committed the criminality.
“Clearly there was a level of organisation – some people brought bolt cutters, others put on masks.”
Justice Minister David Ford said some unionist politicians had to share some of the blame for the disturbances.
“The violence which took place at the city hall and round St Matthew’s Church was the responsibility of two groups of people,” he said.
“The first is those who went to the city hall spoiling for a fight, who attacked police officers and council staff.
“But there is a second group which bears responsibility. DUP and UUP politicians fomented this protest, with both leaflets and the use of social media.
“They called people on to the streets. They must have known, from experience as recent as this summer, that violence was almost inevitable.”
The vote was passed by 29 to 21 – with unionists accusing the Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance of attacking their cultural identity.
The council had to adjourn for half an hour when loyalists stormed Belfast City Hall’s courtyard and came close to breaking into the building.
DUP councillor Guy Spence’s Vauxhall Corsa car was smashed in the rear courtyard of the car park.
The DUP has now asked that the union flag be allowed to be flown every day from the cenotaph in the grounds of the building.
The proposal is being considered and requires the Alliance party to support it.