MORE union flag protests are planned across Northern Ireland on Friday evening as part of ‘Operation Shutdown’.
All available police resources are being mobilised as protestors want to bring the province to a standstill to drive home their anger at removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall.
So far 60 protests are planned, many of them in the Greater Belfast area.
Belfast Daily revealed on Tuesday that the protest is to continue right up until Christmas Eve.
And some are even want to hold one on Christmas Day after the Queen’s Speech.
This comes despite unionist leaders announcing the formation of a Unionist Forum to discuss grassroots issues including the Union flag, parades, deprivation, jobs and the economy.
In a further escalation of the dispute, protestors plan to bring Northern Ireland to a standstill at 6pm on Friday, December 21 and also on Christmas Eve, the last remaining shopping day.
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 between 20 and 30 per cent on last year.
Northern Ireland has been peaceful since Monday when missiles and paint bombs thrown at PSNI in Sandy Row.
Police also came under attack on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast.
The fresh protests came after sporadic rioting erupted in south and east Belfast, Lisburn and Portadown on Monday evening.
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.
Loyalists claim children were “beaten” by police with batons and are planning to report the incidents to the NI Children’s Commissioner for further invetigation.
“Beating children with a baton is child abuse. If a parent did that at home he would be arrested and charged,” said a loyalist source.
Following Monday night’s sporadic trouble, loyalist politicians called on those taking part on Tuesday night’s protests to stay within the law.
TUV leader Jim Allister said of Monday 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.”
Protestors headed their advice and their demonstrations passed off peacefully.
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 to fly the Union flag on Belfast City Hall on 17 designated days.