Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

After numerous riots & countless illegal road blockades, PSNI announce that they’ve made 40 arrests

Thu 13 December 2012, 11:07pm

After 9 days of riots, attempted murder and countless illegal road blockades publicly organised and advertised in advance, there have been some 40 people arrested by the PSNI.

Yup, 40.

One illegal sit-down protest in Ardoyne to oppose a loyalist parade through the nationalist district saw 26 nationalists arrested, charged and convicted in December 2011.

Those are scary numbers for anyone remotely interested in portraying the PSNI as a non-partisan policing service.

As the loyalist law-breaking continues for a tenth day and night, the hearty souls over at the West Belfast PSNI Facebook page have decided to issue a reminder to protesters in case they were unaware of the law:

Some of you may not be aware of the laws regarding protests, so we think that it is important that we update you on this.

Everyone has the right to peacefully protest provided you remain within the law. To remain within the law it is important that you do not block roads or prevent the free flow of vehicle or pedestrian traffic. You should not conceal your identity by covering your face. You must remain peaceful and not use violent or threatening behaviour. Your actions can not amount to intimidating behaviour. The protest should not be conducted in a manner or location that is likely to cause a breach of the peace. If you break the law then you can be summoned to court, prosecuted and receive a criminal record.

Of course, the key phrase there is ‘can be summoned’ as the arrest figures to date indicate a woeful failure or unwillingness on behalf of the PSNI to act in defence of the law and intervene to prevent roads from being blocked, even when the protesters themselves have conceded to having small numbers at the protests where such road blockades took place.

This is important because the PSNI’s reluctance to uphold the law stands in stark contrast with their willingness to arrest and charge nationalists for precisely the same offence – obstructing lawful activity- in Ardoyne.

The inescapable conclusion is that the PSNI have a difficulty with challenging unlawful conduct when the lawbreakers emanate from within unionism.

And that does not augur well for the future….

 

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Comments (54)

  1. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    I think there may be a problem. Though I think the problem may be more generically about the PSNI’s competence as a police force than a differential response to two communities.

    It is hard to see what the baseline is here. The reports we’re getting are of very small distributed crowds that are highly mobile, and that run from civil protest to singular attempts at murder.

    The Ardoyne unrest is annual, four years old concrete and protracted. I presume this makes observation and identification a great deal easier than tracking small mobile groups of two, three, four or five.

    And of course that same line is hugely blurred by cases like this: http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/22427

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  2. Chris Donnelly (profile) says:

    Mick
    Many reports show PSNI officers standing idly by as small groups proceed to bring traffic to a standstill.

    In other words, they don’t appear to need to be highly mobile to escape a police service clearly unwilling to intervene.

    Similarly, the fact that the protests are publicly advertised on Facebook several days in advance should make any difficulties relating to observation and tracking considerably easier if ‘the will’ existed.

    Which it clearly doesn’t.

    Hence the problem.

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  3. Zig70 (profile) says:

    We are taking about a small crowd of people that advertise their movements and plans. I got emailed a list today of the planned protest locations and times and todays all matched up. All nationalists that I know believe and say that the response would be very different if the shoe was on the other foot. From this it looks like the command and control still looks unionist even if the grunts are more tribally mixed.

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  4. Red Lion (profile) says:

    Lies , damed lies , and statistics.

    Weren’t the ardoyne rioters arrested over the following weeks and months allowing time for the long process of identification?I remember the police being slagged off at the time for following a policy of containment at the riot, rather than arrest, which could have inflamed the situation further (if that were possible), and would have diverted from the immediate task of containment and public safety.

    The police are being very much strectched at the minute, province wide with some leave not being allowed and officers doing 12-14 hrs shifts on several days running. The priority is maintaining law and order and keeping the country running, arrests are secondary, except where the offence serious enough. They have arrested 40 so far, not bad in my book, these arrests are at the more serious end of the spectrum. They aint got the manpower to be going after lower grade road blockers which again could inflame a stretched situation. Its also more difficult to identify people under cover of darkness in winter than in the long bright summer evenings. Also, although there has been some planning of loyalist protests, a lot of these have beenn planned at short notice, and many have happened very quickly, the police having to react very quickly to contain and keep the country moving.

    Really, Chris, I believe the police are doing a good job under very difficult and dangerous circumstances – they have to be cautious and put their own safety first after their police car at the Arches was petrol bombed with an officer inside.

    When was the last time a Shinner ever praised the police for doing a good job???Especially under difficult circumstances??? Ah yes, thats right, the party of protest.

    Same old Shinner story, easy to just lay the boot in, trying to split hairs and try and twist the bigger picture about whats really happeing to score some pathetic point. 40 arrests so far is pretty good. PSNI well done,

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  5. Neil (profile) says:

    It’s worth noting that Slugger itself had a thread predicting the traffic disruption around City Hall 24 hours before that disruption occurred. I’ve personally been keeping abreast of the future traffic difficulties on facebook. Bless those ‘protestors’ for leaving it open to view (and comment on, moderated). Rest assured there are traders in Belfast coming to terms with the fact that the Christmas that never was is going to be their last in the city, and the police do nothing.

    The petrol bomb attack had to be paramilitaries, no? Who has half a dozen mates to do that?

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  6. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    “The Ardoyne unrest is annual, four years old concreted and protracted. I presume this make observation and identification a great deal easier than tracking small mobile groups of two, three, four or five.”

    Indeed, Mick.

    It was also a protest in breach of the Parade Commission’s ruling, in the path of the relevant parade, forcing the police’s hand in removing and arresting those involved in blocking that parade.

    The attempt to present this as evidence of bias is laughable.

    “I think there may be a problem. Though I think the problem may be more generically about competence as a police force than a differential response to two communities.”

    Yup. Containment rather than confrontation appears to the preferred approach in all cases. Where possible.

    And with political approval from both sides…

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  7. Greenflag (profile) says:

    Keep the lid on as always .

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  8. Neil (profile) says:

    RL,

    many of your points are correct, I’ll give you that. There are fewer cops these days and working longer hours no doubt. But the difference between obstructing Ardoyne (while a parade is supposed to be obstructing Ardoyne) is not comparable to blocking Belfast off for days, weekends (and weekends to come – seriously hit FB for info if you wanna know when and where) is not the same problem.

    It’s Christmas. People wanna access their city (a nightmare at Christmas at the best of times) to buy presents. Businesses absolutely will go under. It’s getting protracted and all over a vote which (it pains me to admit) implements a flag policy abjectly in line with British policy, carried out democratically. It demands a different response to blocking access to Ardoyne shops, which would be blocked by a parade in any event.

    Good to see also the mooted suggestion that, in light if the peace rally at City Hall scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, the ‘protestors’ should also rally on Sunday. At City Hall. At 11 a.m. Bring instruments, brethern will address the crowd.

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  9. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Chris,

    “Many reports show PSNI officers standing idly by as small groups proceed to bring traffic to a standstill.”

    Well, bringing traffic to a standstill is irritating. But is it arrest-able?

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  10. Red Lion (profile) says:

    I’ve just re-read Chris’ last couple of sentences…

    “The inescapable conclusion is that the PSNI have a difficulty with challenging unlawful conduct when the lawbreakers emanate from within unionism.

    And that does not augur well for the future….”

    Inescapable conclusion!!! 40 arrests, Chris, 40 arrests. Not exactly negliible is it, in 2 quite contrasting situations.

    I’ll tell you what doesn’t augur well for the future – people of influence within whatever community trying to whip up a false myth of victimhood, especially against the police.

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  11. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Actually I think the problem is that the police don’t feel they have a mandate to take action because the protests are being backed by politicians.

    It’s a shameful situation but I do not blame the police – I blame the politicians for being highly selective in their attitude to law and order.

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  12. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Cogent and unimpeachable, Chris. Thanks a lot for your posting. (Written by a unionist who used to be angry when Harold WIlson talked about quasi-fascists.) I had to make a major detour in order to get to church tonight. Why should any group of protestors be allowed to block any road, ever? Can our politicians and our police chiefs not guarantee freedom of movement for drivers and walkers? Do we need UN troops?

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  13. Zig70 (profile) says:

    From above
    To remain within the law it is important that you do not block roads or prevent the free flow of vehicle or pedestrian traffic
    There is always the public order offence. I don’t really think these kids need a criminal record but they should be shoo’ed at the very least.

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  14. Neil (profile) says:

    Well, bringing traffic to a standstill is irritating. But is it arrest-able?

    Yes. It is.

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  15. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    CS,

    “I think the problem is that the police don’t feel they have a mandate to take action because the protests are being backed by politicians.”

    This does NOT apply in the case of the Ardoyne riots. For that reason colour me sceptical on that point. They are not really mandated to confront anyone, full stop, unless they’ve done their homework.

    Pretty sensible when they risk pols jumping up and down on them if they foolishly arrest the ‘wrong’ person?

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  16. Neil (profile) says:

    This just posted by PSNI.. mw

    ”Some of you may not be aware of the laws regarding protests, so we think that it is important that we update you on this.

    Everyone has the right to peacefully protest provided you remain within the law. To remain within the law it is important that you do not block roads or prevent the free flow of vehicle or pedestrian traffic. You should not conceal your identity by covering your face. You
    must remain peaceful and not use violent or threatening behaviour. Your actions can not amount to intimidating behaviour. The protest should not be conducted in a manner or location that is likely to cause a breach of the peace. If you break the law then you can be summoned to court, prosecuted and receive a criminal record.”

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  17. Neil (profile) says:

    Above lifted from fb page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-the-Union-Flag-flying-over-Belfast-City-Hall/524171340927645?fref=ts

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  18. Red Lion (profile) says:

    There’d be a few cracked heads of truncheon on skull if it were the gardai in charge. Our peelers operate with one hand tied behind their back, they know if they use a bit of force it’ll likely end up with a scrutinizing interview from the ombudsmans office.

    And we’ve only one police helicopter, which seems to hover permanently over Mt Vernon or at Short Strand if the circumstances dictate. They”ll be recording so expect more arrests, but like i said earlier harder to identify in the dark winter.

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  19. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Bernadette in April 1969: http://goo.gl/8fmaz

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  20. SK (profile) says:

    The PSNI. Taking shit from protestors, then taking shit from politicians who complain that they take too much/not enough shit from protestors. They have my utmost sympathy and respect.

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  21. SK (profile) says:

    “There’d be a few cracked heads of truncheon on skull if it were the gardai in charge.”

    A friend and I were saying the precisely same thing earlier in the week. The Guards take no shit in public order situations.

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  22. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    Well, 2 Rifles , 1 Mercian and 40 Royal Artillery are all close at hand.

    Always willing to help out, as they have been for over 40 years.

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  23. Sp12 (profile) says:

    Didn’t the PSNI pull out the stops with 20 jeeps and riot police and arrest Eirigi guys en route to city hall on armed forces day?

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  24. Red Lion (profile) says:

    SP12, think thats a bit different, see my earlier posts. was that the armed forces day with 30,000 spectators in Belfast City Centre?? And a republiucan march en route to meet them?? Damn right the police should pull out all the stop or their wouldn’t be a Belfast city centre full stop

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  25. tacapall (profile) says:

    The PSNI are acting no different than they ever did as the RUC, allowing loyalists to engage in violence and taking no interest in bringing those same loyalists to justice has always been the case. Loyalist violence has always been viewed by Unionist politicians and the RUC/PSNI as against the law, but somehow understandable or even reactionary. Most nationalists and republicans know this and that is one of the reasons why they will never give their allegiance to this state.

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  26. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    This does NOT apply in the case of the Ardoyne riots. For that reason colour me sceptical on that point. They are not really mandated to confront anyone, full stop, unless they’ve done their homework.

    I don’t think you’re right, Mick. When have you ever heard SF calling for the PSNI to robustly deal with the protestors in Ardoyne ?

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  27. Red Lion (profile) says:

    tacapall, 40 loyalist arrests means nowt then?? Yeah the PSNI have no interest in pursuing their ‘brothers in arms’ throwing petrol bombs in manned unmarked police cars.

    Lord help us

    And so to bed

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  28. The moaning here is freaking unbelievable. Back when I used to live in a shoebox, it took me 3 hours longer than usual to get back to the box one Friday, Bloody Friday it came to be known as, and found my wife in hysterics hoping that I hadn’t gone to get the bus at Oxford Street a bit earlier as I occasionally did on Fridays.
    Do people want to watch videos of Duke Street in Derry from 1968 to see the proper way for police officers to deal with people blocking the road?

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  29. tacapall (profile) says:

    And how could Sinn Fein politicians use those words for action Comrade to a Police force who’s employees were possibly involved in a conspiracy to murder with loyalist terrorists, the same people who you insinuate Sinn Fein never called for to be treated robustly.

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  30. Submariner (profile) says:

    Chris i think you are being harsh on the PSNI. They have arrested 40 people so far and im sure there are more to come. What is more concerning is the attitude of the courts when these vermin are brought before them. They are being bailed. I have said it before and it is worth repeating. If you are brought before the courts for rioting then no bail remand in custody with no exceptions. If you are then subsequently convicted of rioting then a mandatory five year jail sentence. @Mick there is a power of arrest for blocking a public road.

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  31. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Sub, I used to have a filter on words like vermin, it was a term of abuse almost 100% used by loyalists against Catholics. It’s pretty objectionable either way.

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  32. aquifer (profile) says:

    Chris the police may be doing all they can with the numbers they have without making a bad situation worse. If they can kill this off with patience boredom political embarrassment and no martyrs it is less likely to happen again. The RUC riot squad did not tend to bother arresting people once a riot had erupted so 40 could be fine, especially the right 40.

    And with video evidence that number could grow.

    Let’s see some equality of sentencing.

    The PSNI are much better than the Met at this stuff, and the Garda’s head cracking could not work on the serial whiners here.

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  33. Submariner (profile) says:

    Apologies Mick point taken. However that is what i as a hard working tax payer view rioters from whatever hue.

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  34. Charlie Sheens PR guru (profile) says:

    Red Lion,

    “I’ll tell you what doesn’t augur well for the future – people of influence within whatever community trying to whip up a false myth of victimhood, especially against the police.”

    Given only yesterday was the Finucane review verdict, I would have thought it was obviously to anyone that it’s a very bad week for your particular argument regarding the ‘myth of victimhood’.

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  35. derrydave (profile) says:

    To be fair to the PSNI – I think they’re just making the best of a bad situation. They’ve obviously learned from history that the best thing to do in these situations is to stand back, let the protesters do their thing (to a degree), take lots of pictures and video, and try to round people up and prosecute them afterwards. Eminently sensible I would have thought.
    The protests though irritating I’m sure, are very small affairs which will soon peter out. If the PSNI attempted more confrontation and on-the-spot arrests then there is always a risk that this would breathe some life into the protests and crank things up a notch.
    It’s not really a like-for-like comparison to try to compare this situation to the Ardoyne protest. On that occasion the PSNI had no option really other than to try to remove the protesters, get the parade through, deal with the rioting, and then hope for everyone to get back to normal. On this occasion the police were up close and personal with the protesters in the middle of the afternoon and so identification was very easy. It may also be a factor that the police took the opportunity to hand out minor convictions to many known dissidents who took part in that protest. As a small example – one of the guys convicted at that protest also featured in recent days on Slugger due to being caught in the car in Creggan with the mortar bomb !
    From memory the convictions handed out for the Ardoyne protest were token efforts – five hundred pound fines I think. What is irritating and possibly inconsistent is the light treatment (including bailing) of people charged with rioting. However this is all on the court service and not the PSNI.

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  36. Chris Donnelly (profile) says:

    Firstly, let me thank Pete Baker for reminding us of the recent situation when the PSNI refused to implement a Parades Commission determination when faced with loyalist opposition-
    http://www.u.tv/news/PSNI-officers-hurt-in-parade-disorder/9f82b111-b1f2-47d7-b79c-dcc629c2d9e2

    Furthermore, I note one commenter suggesting that the arrests, charges and convictions in Ardoyne may have been simply an opportunity to get at dissidents involved in the protesting.

    Which brings us nicely to one complaint made- interestingly enough- by numerous Alliance spokespersons throughout the past week and a half, regarding why loyalists involved in the violence and law-breaking were not being treated in the same manner as those republicans engaged in violence.

    I’d wholly concur with the commenters above who’ve pointed to the discrepancies in sentencing when it comes to republicans and loyalists, not simply the blanket bailing of those loyalists involved in protests at present. This is a serious issue which suggests that a spotlight needs to be shone on those tasked with ‘delivering’ justice to ensure that community confidence can be secured and the public reassured that the courts will treat all before them in a consistent manner.

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  37. keano10 (profile) says:

    I would also be interested to know how the PSNI’s investigation into abuse of Social Media sites is progressing since the dispute started. They said that they would put 20 officers on to it but the only person I’ve seen charged with internet abuse was the guy who was up in court yesterday facing another more serious charge.

    Some of the material on these sites is pure raw sectarianism. I looked at one of the “Peaceful Protests” Facebook sites where someone had posted a photograph of a female Alliance Politician prefixed by the words “Kill that bitch”.

    That is just the tip of the iceberg i’m afraid…

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  38. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Sub,

    Accepted. Language of the oppressor and all that…

    We ought to keep an eye on that Keano.. But unless they are smart, I doubt those entries ate going anywhere…

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  39. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    For as long as the leaders of the two main political parties in NI refuse to both publicly and privately back the PSNI robustly dealing with this sort of lawbreaking, the PSNI will continue to play it very careful in much the way that they do now.

    The immediate problem with the current protests is that the police are probably afraid that lifting a whole bunch of protestors blocking roads will inflame tensions further, as if they’re not already bad enough. They can’t take a risk like that without political backing.

    This is a situation I’m extremely unhappy about and I’ve moaned about it before, especially back a year or two ago where loyalists in Ballyclare went apeshit when the PSNI – rather innocently – removed some provocatively-placed union flags, and then afterwards grovelled and apologized to the freakin’ rioters. People who riot or try to kill police officers – or anyone else – should be dealt with robustly and politicians who complain about it should be told to stop interfering in operational matters.

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  40. keano10 (profile) says:

    I think that there is definitely value in pursuing that whole are Mick. Glasgow Police had great success in prosecuting individuals in the aftermath of the whole Neil Lennon debacle a couple of years ago.

    Sectarian abuse on Social Media dramatically reduced following those prosecutions. Indeed, Strathclyde Police still regularly monitor all of the Rangers & Celtic Fan Forums and the organisers of such sites are also now compelled to issue warnings to users that prosecutions may result from any sectarian comments.

    There has been an absolute free-for-all on some of these Loyalist “Protest” Sites and the PSNI really need to get their act together on this.

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  41. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    CS’s point is well made. I have some understanding, sympathy even with the position the DUP find themselves in.

    The picketing of PSNI headquarters at Knock over the ‘political’ arrest of Padraic Wilson was pretty rum behaviour from their senior partners in government.

    But now both ‘Castle’ parties are on the wrong side of police lines, who’s minding the baby? The DUP’\s problem is that they are only ones out on the street.

    They may not be being ‘Trimbled’, but maybe they’re in the process of being ‘Robinsoned’?

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  42. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Comrade Stalin says it all. ‘People who riot or try to kill police officers – or anyone else – should be dealt with robustly and politicians who complain about it should be told to stop interfering in operational matters.’

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  43. Dec (profile) says:

    I think part of the problem is that when Jackie McDonald is interviewed on television (or in print)and is invited to dliever his ‘analysis’ he is billed as ‘the leader of the UDA’ and no-one appears to bat an eyelid. It’s almost as if they’re part of the mainstream now – we’re now hearing of a DUP/UUP/UDA/UVF taskforce.
    Can anyone imagine a scenario if a Republican was interviewed about recent events and billed as ‘an IRA leader’ where there wouldn’t be uproar.

    http://www.u.tv/News/UDA-in-talks-to-end-flag-protests/e0fe6fd4-4bd6-4ffa-b283-2c9c7f346006

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  44. tacapall (profile) says:

    By the way Mick I remember you asked me to produce evidence of loyalists throwing a nail bomb into a Catholic house during disturbances at Broadway a while back that wasn’t classed as newsworthy at the time. Court 16, 4th floor today, Intent to murder , possession of improvised explosive device and causing an explosion.

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  45. Haifish (profile) says:

    Possibly the PSNI are trying to avoid a whole Province wide Drumcree roadblock type situation, by noting who is involved in any illegal acts which may be happening now, then “scooping” the perps at a later date.
    Intelligence may suggest to them some within Loyalism are itching for the cops to go in heavy handed, to give them an excuse to crank things up further?

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  46. galloglaigh (profile) says:

    The Facebook page is interesting reading, albeit difficult at times when the uneducated are typing. A Semi-Chem sales assistant from Ballyclare, Joanne Warren, has posted a vile and racist picture. This is only one of a few racist pictures that this individual has posted. Others have posted similar pictures.

    I also noticed they have claimed that Scottish Unionist Party members are to address the crowd on Saturday. They must have some eyesight to notice the missing flag all the way across the sea.

    The PSNI are treating loyalists differently. And the context of Ardoyne and this protest is totally different. It’ll be interesting in the new year to see the final outcome of fines and convictions, but we won’t know until then.

    On a side note, Edwin Poots has sacked a health manager for lack of leadership. Oh the irony :)

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  47. iluvni (profile) says:

    Not sure about this protest, right enough…
    7.30 pm Public toilets Castledawson

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  48. galloglaigh (profile) says:

    Do you need your own Vaseline and George Michael outfit?

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  49. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    Has the PSNI made any attempt to manage the protests in any instance.?
    By moving the protesters off the road and onto the pavement, say?
    Without necessarily wading in and making arrests.
    Just wondering?

    What do you think?
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  50. babyface,

    I doubt that the police are making up tactics on the fly. The PSNI are amongst the more highly trained police services in dealing with crowd control. They are showing remarkable restraint in the face of officers being injured. I think the tactic used at Ardoyne, for example, of not wading in but gathering evidence and charging lawbreakers later is effective. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t want them wading in and batoning down people simply protesting as they were once wont to do.

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  51. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    Mister_Joe
    I’m inclined to agree. I don’t want to see them wading in with batons swinging.
    But have they tried speaking to the protesters,asking them to obey the law and move on to the pavement?
    If that fails start cautioning people then make a few arrests and see if that persuades them to move.
    I don’t care if they stand and protest on the pavement from now to next 12th July as long as they get off the f**king road

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  52. sonofstrongbow (profile) says:

    The ‘not killin, but still not likin’ mob do so enjoy having a wee go at the peelers.

    However contrast the PSNI handling of the riot on the Donegal Road a few days ago with the annual Ardoyne disturbances (Traditional Riot). On the Donegal Road the police cordoned the area and then moved in in force with all the toys, water cannon etc, and cleared the streets.

    At the Ardoyne every year the police set up at the junctions with the Crumlin Road and allow the rioters free rein to mount repeated attacks on their lines. Police casualties have been horrendous.

    Despite other routes into Ardoyne the police never attempt to enter the area to clear the streets.

    The only change to the (agreed) script came this year when the PSNI facilitated nationalist rioters to march out of Ardoyne and pass the mouth of the Twadell Road junction throwing missiles and abuse at the Protestant crowd gathered there before being escorted back to the entrance to Ardoyne by the cops.

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  53. Chris. Could it be that when the DUP were giving the pep talk to the loyalist rioters, they pointed them to the line in the PSNI fb statement were it says ‘can be’ and indicated that was their getout clause and they needn’t worry about it being upgraded to ‘will’ Poots claimed that protesters told him they didn’t bother listening to politicians on their side anymore. So Poots in an incredulous tone, wondered why. they didn’t listen to the Dear Leader, Robbo, Their votes were lost to unionists in the BCC long since from which, the democratic result arrived, since, it was due to the folks having already dismissed the DUP and UUP as no use to them that the riots arose in the first place.

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  54. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Protestors who vote only for what they see as a party of protest tend not to support that party once they begin to see it as a party of the establishment.

    Clever liberal souls who remember the party of protest with a shudder cannot bring their sensitive selves to vote for that party even after it settles down and becomes respectable.

    So unless it does something very clever, the umquhile party of protest will soon be in trouble. What do you do with an electorate that would rather watch mindless advertisements on TV than make a trip to the polling station? Hey?

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