POLICE will be on the streets of Northern Ireland until Christmas Eve as the Union flag protest enters its third week.
Belfast Daily understands loyalists are planning to continue taking to the streets to voice their anger over the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall.
In a further escalation of the dispute, protestors plan to bring Northern Ireland to a standstill at 6pm on Friday, December 21.
A loyalist source has told Belfast Daily: “We will continue our protest up to and including Christmas Eve.
“There are some who say that we should have a protest on Christmas Day after dinner and the Queen’s Speech.
“A firm decision on that will not be taken until closer to the time. The hawks in the protest are winning against the doves.
“After Christmas the protest may become more militant if the flag is not back up on the City Hall.
“We know the police are stretched. Their morale is low but we will continue to voice our opposition to the removal of the Union flag.”
Friday night’s protest will cause major trading problems for city centre businesses
The protests have hurt traders in Belfast city centre who have been counting the cost of stay-away shoppers at the busiest time of the year for them
Pubs of Ulster said on Tuesday that the licensed trade in the city are reporting that takings are down 30 per cent on last year.
More protests are planned to coincide with rush hour traffic on Wednesday evening but others are expected to start up unannounced as part of a plan to catch police unawares and also spread their resources thinly across Northern Ireland.
Loyalist sources said the planned protests include:
* Cambrai Street/Crumlin Road – now 5 pm;
* Clonduff – 6pm;
* Ballysillan – 6pm;
* Magherafelt – 7.30pm.
Ahead of tonight’s protest loyalist politicians have called on those taking part to stay within the law.
TUV leader Jim Allister said of last night’s trouble: “The violence was not just wholly wrong but damages the cause and discredits legitimate protest and protestors.”
The PUP said “We call those exercising their human right to protest, to do it in a peaceful and lawful manor.”
The fresh protests come after a night of sporadic rioting erupted in south and east Belfast, Lisburn and Portadown.
Arrests were made including nine juveniles in Lisburn, one of which was only 11-years-old, in what police described as “serious public order situations” broke out on the Hillsborough Road and Longstone Road.
The PSNI said 11 police officers were injured bringing to 40 the number hurt since the protest started three weeks ago after Belfast City Council voted by 29-21 to only fly the Union flag on the City Hall on 17 designated days.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones has described the situation in Northern Ireland as “corrosive” and is calling for dialogue rather than protests.
“There were arrests and more will follow as we now trawl through evidence gathered by officers out on the ground,” he said.
The protests are being co-ordinated as part of ‘Operation Shutdown’, a plan by loyalists to bring streets, roads, towns and cities to a standstill to show their anger at the council’s decision.