Jan 7 2013
Senior members of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) are orchestrating loyalist street violence that has seen police come under attack in Belfast on four successive nights, Northern Ireland's Chief Constable has said.
While the violence has erupted at ongoing Union flag protests in the east of the city, Matt Baggott called for an end to all such demonstrations across the region.
Loyalist pickets have been continuing since early December in response to a decision by Belfast City Council to limit the number of days the flag flies over City Hall. So far 62 police officers have been injured and 96 people have been arrested.
"Senior members of the UVF in east Belfast as individuals have been increasingly orchestrating some of this violence - that is utterly unacceptable and is being done for their own selfish motives," said Mr Baggott.
The chief constable said he believed the UVF involvement was limited to east Belfast and there was no evidence of a collective endorsement of the organisation.
A number of politicial representatives have been subject to death threats during the unrest - the latest being the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Assembly member Patsy McGlone. A parcel containing a sympathy card referring to Mr McGlone and a bullet was intercepted at a postal sorting office.
Mr Baggott said he did have the resources at present to deal with the rioting but warned that if disturbances continued, long-term policing objectives, such as the operation to tackle dissident republicanism, could be undermined.
"I would like everybody involved in these protests now to take a step back," he said.
"My ambition is that the protests will come to an end, although you appreciate that the police are not in control of that. But if not, at the very least those involved in the protests should be off the road, not causing obstruction, absolutely condemning violence and ensuring that these young people are not involved.
"And that requires a concerted effort from politicians and those who have put themselves up as organisers acting together and from parents and responsible members of the community. At the moment there is a lack of control, which for me is very worrying."