Belfast braced for another night of unrest

Belfast was braced for another night of unrest on Friday evening as police faced off against a small group that ignited at least one petrol bomb and set bins, trolleys and a car on fire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay.

Leaders from the loyalist and nationalist communities had appealed for calm earlier in the day after police on Thursday night brought water cannon on to the streets of Belfast for the first time in six years.

They were deployed to defuse loyalist protests over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit relationship with the UK and EU, which has in effect created a trade border in the Irish Sea and threatened the peace sealed by the Good Friday Agreement 23 years ago.

Protests planned for Friday evening were cancelled as a mark or respect on the death of Prince Philip, but as darkness fell small groups spilled into the streets in north Belfast and a police helicopter circled overhead.

“We would appeal for calm in the area and ask anyone who has any influence in communities, please, use that influence to ensure young people do not get caught up in criminality and that they are kept safe and away from harm tonight,” chief superintendent Muir Clark of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said on Twitter at around 9.30pm on Friday evening.

A sign asking for all loyalist protests to be suspended as a mark of respect following the death of Prince Phillip © Paul McErlane/FT

Onlookers said at least one petrol bomb was set off in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay, north Belfast, which borders the nationalist New Lodge district. The Financial Times saw small groups of men wearing balaclavas run towards journalists with large wheelie bins that were then set on fire. More than 10 armoured PSNI Land Rovers arrived on the scene, and police in riot gear set up barricades between Tiger’s Bay and North Lodge.

By 9.30, rocks and bottles were being thrown at police as smoke billowed, sirens blared and dogs barked. Later the action moved into New Lodge, where a group including some very young teenagers hurled trolleys and stones towards PSNI vans, which pushed towards them and then retreated. Most were male; some wore shorts despite the bitter cold.

Residents watched the action from cars parked six deep in a retail park separated from New Lodge by high railings. “It’s like Netflix,” said one man in his sixties, adding that he had spent the previous nights bingewatching US crime drama Quantico. Some brought snacks. 

“It’s nothing new, we’re used to it,” said a woman who has lived in North Lodge her whole life. She said the group on Friday night was older than the youths who had protested there earlier in the week.

“It was so quiet here for a couple of years, and then this . . . it’s terrible,” she said, describing how all the residents had to move their cars every night for fear of damage. Her elderly father who lives with her watched from inside the house as small crowds continued to gather, briefly spooked by a firecracker going off.

In the Catholic area of Alliance Avenue, a young single mother described how she and her child were among those who had to evacuate their homes after a suspect device was found on their road. The road was shut for several hours and later reopened.

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