Police in the North have again come under attack from loyalist protesters after a Union flag demonstration turned ugly.
Officers were pelted with petrol bombs, fireworks and other missiles in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey in north Belfast on Friday evening. A bus was also set on fire during the disorder and police officers had to deploy water cannons in a bid to restore calm.
Earlier on Friday the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) submitted a formal complaint to Belfast City Council following their decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag, which could lead to legal action being taken.
The change to only hoisting the flag on designated days like royal birthdays was endorsed by nationalists and the cross-community Alliance Party at the start of December.
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said: “The decision to introduce the policy of flying the Union flag at City Hall was taken democratically by elected members at the monthly meeting of Belfast City Council on December 3.
“The council has taken legal advice throughout this process and the decision is in keeping with the outcome of the equality impact assessment that was undertaken in line with the advice of the Equality Commission.
“The designated days agreed are in keeping with those notified by the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport.”
After weeks of demonstrations which have sparked full scale-riots, sixty-six police officers have been injured during the trouble.
And it doesn't look like it’s going to stop any time soon as a series of protests, dubbed Operation Standstill resulted in many roads being blocked off between 6pm and 8pm as loyalist protesters again took to the streets to voice their opposition to Belfast City Council’s decision to limit the number of days the Union flag flies at City Hall, according to the Newsletter.
Rugby fans travelling to Ravenhill in east Belfast for Ulster’s crunch Heineken Cup game against Glasgow faced major disruption due to the numerous flag demonstrations across Northern Ireland in co-ordinated action dubbed ‘Operation Standstill’ by organisers.
But the city centre was not as empty as might have been expected after an online campaign urged people to defy the protests and stage an “Operation sit-in” in cafes, pubs and restaurants to give businesses hit by the six-week campaign of street action a much-needed boost to trade.
In Carrickfergus police fired one baton round as serious disorder broke out following a protest.
A large crowd of rioters hurled bricks, bottles and fireworks at officers in the West Street area of the Co Antrim town.
Councillor John Hussey, secretary of the DUP group on Belfast city council,said the decision to only fly the flag on designated days is in breach of BCC's equality scheme and the complaint is the first step towards possible legal action.
"We believe that both in its processes and in its decision over the removal of the Union flag Belfast City Council made multiple breaches of its published and legally required equality scheme," said Mr Hussey.
“The DUP is committed to pursuing all political avenues to overturning the disastrous decision by Sinn Fein, SDLP and the Alliance party and to repairing the harm to good relations and a shared future it has caused.”
"As with the launch of the Unionist Forum, through this initiative my party wishes to demonstrate that there are political alternatives to protests and most especially to violence."
Councillors in Craigavon have voted to review their flag policy, which could lead to the Union flag being displayed all year round rather than the current designated days. Meanwhile on Limavady council, nationalists defeated a unionist motion to start flying the flag there on designated days.
One protest is even scheduled for Liverpool, England on Friday at 6pm and a further demonstration in Bristol, England on Saturday.
The Alliance Party, which controls the balance of power on Belfast Council, has said the designated days option was in line with the recommendation from Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission as an approach which would promote good relations between both sides.