East Belfast Riots Spotlight

East Belfast Riots

Investigating stories affecting life in Northern Ireland. A look at the reasons why violence flared in East Belfast recently.

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Hello and welcome to the programme. Just one week after violence


erupted on the streets of East Belfast, the Irish President


visited the area today. She said the trouble had broken heart, but


could not break the local community. We will be discussing the


repercussions of the violence were political and church leaders later.


But first, a look at precisely what happened and why.


And aerial view of some of the worst rioting in East Belfast in


many years. These exclusive pictures not seen until now were


taken from a police helicopter as the violence unfolded. But exactly


what happened and how did this mayhem start? We have pieced


together a detailed breakdown of two consecutive nights of trouble


to understand what went on on the streets of Belfast just over a week


ago. East Belfast is predominantly Unionist, but also home to Short


Strand. There is an interface. The first sign of violence came at 6


o'clock when a republican received a phone call from a Republican


intermediary warning tensions were high. UVF men were being brought


into the area and when gathering at local bars. Around 8:45pm, groups


of UVF men appeared from here. They converged on this road and were


dressed in black, wearing gloves and masks. They were ready to


attack. A police patrol spotted 8,100 strong crowd and called for


back-up. There was some significant disorder. The first attacks were


launched at these homes. At exactly the same time, another group


attacked the area from a different street. Police were able to bring


some of the trouble under control by 10 o'clock, but it escalated in


other areas. Homes in this pub has done area were attacked. There were


500 people on each side of the divide. For the next 3.5 hours, the


Briot raged. Five shots were fired from the loyalist side, some


ricochet in of police Land Rovers. After midnight fire also came from


Short Strand. A man was shot on the loyalist side and a short time


later a 16-year-old was hit as well. But police managed to hold the line


and the crowd dispersed at 2:30am. One of the worst nights of rioting


in recent years had ended. The next day, police were asked to clear-up


some of the confusion. They could not have been more categorical. The


UVF started an orchestrated the violence. The police say they did a


see it coming. Tensions were high in that area and we had extra


patrols, but we did not know it was coming to this scale. The first we


knew of it was mast and bluffed men -- men up wearing masks and gloves


gathering on the street corner. This man says they used to be


communication with Belfast UVF, but it has broken down. East Belfast


was exemplary in terms of to make a name for themselves.


there is evidence the UVF has been making their presence felt on the


streets of east Belfast. We have had murals painted sending out a


war message. There are a number of the UVF flags been displayed, and


you have the leader of that organisation who sees himself as a


law unto themselves. The second night of disorder, the UVF stepped


back and watched as local youth carried on the violence they had


started. It got beyond the reach and control of those who were


potentially organising that. It was also clear there was no visible


sign that night of more mature heads seeking to constrain the


situation. I think the beginning of this was organised. After that it


took a life of its own. violence led to republicans firing


shots and brought rioters onto the streets in the middle of the margin


season. The repercussions were potentially huge. Reluctant to


leave the stage, reinforcements were bussed into Short Strand to


defend the area by hand. Republicans had to go into Short


Strand to shore up the area. They wanted to give reassurance. People


would use a situation like that as a pretext to enter the area. The


genie is out of the bottle. aerial footage has revealed crowds


making petrol bombs. At one point let -- loyalists end a laser at the


helicopter. They also climbed on rooftops to throw their missiles.


On the second night of trouble, a press photographer was injured when


shots were fired. Police say they came from dissidents. The situation


was one of chaos. He at the centre for community mediation in north


Belfast, of representatives of what was the IRA and what is the UPA,


and Red Hand Commando net. -- what is the UVF. I said, or we are where


we are. We do we go from here? deal was done to end the violence.


People from both sides had work to restore calm. But why did it all


start? Some loyalists feel that the peace process has passed them by.


There were riots eight months ago because there is believed that


historical crime team is one-sided. -- that the historical crime team


is one-sided. There are genuine grievances out there. They need to


be addressed. The with the tried to talk to the leader of the UVF in


Belfast, but he did not want to talk to us. But they have been


talking recently to this local clergyman. Has the UVF said to you


why it has happened? It happened because they felt that their


community is continually under attack. Some solutions could be


resolved. Unfortunately, they were not. Tensions at the interface had


estimated at the weekend before the rioting. But whatever the exact


reason, it East Belfast UVF decided to attack the Short Strand last


week, and that was with beat backing of the UVF Shankill Road


command. It is a coming together of the UVF in East Belfast and


Shankill Road. In fact, last Tuesday, the East Belfast UVF


leader was joined by the overall leader of the UVF, its so called


Brigadier. But his appearance raises further questions about the


UVF commitment to peace. It 2007, they have released a statement. The


brigade staff talked about moving into a non military role.


Everything that has happened in East Belfast speaks and axe in


But the violence may have suited the leadership. It was said that


there may be some thinking within the UVF, if we caused some noise,


if we caused a bit of violence, if we show we are still out there,


some of these things will back off, the Supergrass trial will back off,


that is what you get if you come after us. The UVF's politically --


volatility has been a matter of concern. We have learned that pipe


bomb attacks on two homes in republican west Belfast last


November have also been blamed on a UVF unit. Leading Republicans have


tackled the leadership about this. We gave them the benefit of the


doubt and hope they will raise their mark and deal with those


situations. They need to deal with it as soon as possible. The UVF's


actions are a real concern for the Stormont executive to. Last


Thursday, Peter Robinson met a UVF delegation including the East


Belfast commander. The First Minister said last week's violence


has bomb-maker -- damaged Northern Ireland's reputation


internationally. His senior civil servant has been appointed to


report back on the issues behind it. And the police, often in the middle


of committee division, are also stressing the need for a local


solution at the Short Strand interface itself. Policing the


symptoms is a short-term fix, they have got to be a longer term,


sustainable relationship between these communities. How we do that


is principally with communities being supported by other agencies


but it is in communities's hands as well. Switching the violence on is


always easier than switching it off and with a precedent having been


set last week, there is now fear of more trouble and other interfaces


throughout the marching season. Sustained rioting for two nights,


gunmen back on the streets, houses wrecked, thousands of pounds worth


of damage caused and the police admit there was a gap in their


intelligence -- intelligence. Mr Ford, they may have been a failure


of police intelligence last week but there is no doubt on the police


is part that the UVF was responsible for turning the tap on.


Why can the authorities go into East Belfast and arrest the people


responsible before they do it again? That is a job for the police,


not the Department of Justice. The police have got to work with


evidence and intelligence which enables them to take action. There


was a build-up of tension with flag flying before we got to the stage.


They have got to be questions as to how the agencies as a whole address


problems like that. I'm concerned there was this intelligence gap?


All this was happening. With the benefit of hindsight, we know what


it led to. They say they did not expect 100 men to come up wearing


masks and surgical gloves and do to get the intelligence to deal


with this in advance. We have got to make sure the police have the


best possible intelligence and one of the key is the community


contacts they depend upon. depend on public confidence for


police to work properly. Policing did not get to grips with what


happened on Monday and Tuesday of last week. The individuals


responsible, far from being arrested and held to account, some


of them were correct -- invited to Stormont Castle to meet senior


politicians. I recognise that in the past people have been persuaded


away from violence because of cheerleaders or committee leaders.


I think that is very different from people in Parliament. -- church


leaders or community leaders. I think the real issues that need to


be addressed are around committee confidence. There are issues around


robust policing. I am going to take an awful lot of convincing that


senior politicians speaking to those implementing violence is the


way to go forward. Did those senior politicians who met with those UVF


leaders from east Belfast make a miscalculation in your view?


don't know who was at the meeting, I was no part of it. I took part in


a more constructive meeting this afternoon looking at how we deal


with difficulties around interface in arrears and other hard to reach


areas, looking at constructive ways around engagement. That is what I


think government should be doing. You are saying you are


uncomfortable about it, the First Minister was at the meeting, it


took place at Stormont Castle, which is the heart of Northern


Ireland government. I took part in other things which are my


responsibility to look at community safety issues last week to see how


we address those community safety issues. Partially by physical


structures but very much by committee action. The Minister of


Justice has responsibility to support the justice agencies,


particularly the police and see... Other people have got to take on


their responsibilities because a large amount of the committee


Richens issue is down to the First Minister. We do not have the IMC to


monitor ceasefires. What is the status of the ceasefire? You heard


what Allister thinly said. The firm belief that it was the East Belfast


UDF started that off and the message has got to be clear. The


message has got to be clear, the UVF claimed they were disbanding,


the UVF has got to go away. There is role for individuals in


community life, if they want to take part in a democratic process.


There is no role for opposition's lack the UVF. At that you for


coming to join us. What has it been like on the frontline of the


trouble? Mandy Macaulay has been talking to... She has been hearing


the human cost from people on both For years, residents on but the


size of the East Belfast interface have lived with the threat of


violence but days ago one woman, a Catholic resident of the Short


Strand, too frightened to be identified, looked out of her


window and was frozen with fear, horrified by what she saw. I looked


out of the window and got Taoiseach of my life. What did you see?


hundreds of men, Crone, older men, with balaclavas on, black


balaclavas, and black coats, and wearing surgical gloves. I actually


crawled down the stairs to get to the phone to phone the police. I


thought I was going to be killed. I thought I was going to be killed


for. And then, minutes later, I was Justin at a panic. It was just


horrendous. -- just in utter panic. She was not the only one who was


terrified. Earlier, this woman's children were playing outside the


House when missiles started exploding around them. I'd just


grab them up. I did not realise what was going on. They saw me


panicking and then they were squealing. The older two were very


nervous. They have not been out because they are afraid. Across the


peace line, Protestant residents say last week's violence was a


response to months of attacks on the committee by young nationalists,


a tax which they claim have been ignored by police. One woman says


her son who is in a wheelchair and a disabled friend were attacked on


the other side of the divide on the Sunday before trouble broke out.


There is not a week goes by, there are threats, there are metal bars,


there are broken bottles, he has never been able to use his garden,


and on Sunday there was the final straw. Him and his friend, he's in


a wheelchair, his friend came up for a nice weekend in Belfast, and


was walking to try to get into their home and they were hit with


bricks. There is not a week has gone by when we have not phone the


police and they are not taking any heed. But there are those who are


convinced that the UVF has taken advantage of this discontent to


stir up trouble for its own against. One of those believes it is his


Christian duty to speak out about the orchestration of last week's


violence who is a Church of Ireland minister who has worked in East


Belfast for more than a decade. They did not physically track


hundreds of men and women and young people onto the streets, but they


created an environment that they knew, and everybody else knew,


would result in hundreds of people going on to the streets. On the


back of that, they attempted to be seen as part of the answer, a big


part of the answer to the problem. And solving the problem. He is not


alone in that belief. In the loyalist heartland, the UVF has a


strong presence. Pastor Jack McKee is based there. He says it is now


in the financial and political interests of some paramilitaries to


open at sectarian divisions. There are people who were content to


stare at tensions so that they will commend as the cavalry in order to


bring a solution to the issue and be seen as the good guys. My


interpretation of what happened in East Belfast were that there were


those who were hell-bent on putting on a show. The presence of


organised groups of adults working together in a disciplined fashion


shows how orchestrated the arts -- orchestrated the violence was. You


are saying on some level paramilitaries brought hundreds of


young men on to the streets to terrorise people so that they could


then be seen to be solving the problem? The paramilitaries


certainly had a hand in creating the problem and encouraging the


situation. Three days later, discussions have taken place, talks


have happened, and the streets are clear tonight. There is nobody out


on the streets of east Belfast this evening. Why couldn't those talks


have happened a week ago? Or a fortnight ago? In order to prevent


the situation. And yet loyalist community workers would say, we


have been in meeting after meeting in recent days to try and solve


this problem. I would have a question for them and it would go


something like this, why didn't you attempt to solve this problem


before it happened? He is not saying they were not genuine


grievances but rather that there was a deliberate decision by


paramilitaries to escalate the situation. A young man we were


encouraging to come away from the riots, not to stay there any longer,


and he whispered to myself and to another person, "I can't go here. I


have got to stay. I will be in trouble, I can't leave, I have got


to stay". Obviously, he was afraid. He was afraid to leave and felt he


had to stay there. This Presbyterian minister was also on


the streets on Tuesday night when adult men were replaced by


teenagers on the front line. These are young people living in inner


East Belfast who rightly or wrongly believe they are defending their


location. They are young people who have become engaged in all the


activities of these last couple of nights, brick throwing and chanting


and all manner of things. Young people like to be in at the heart


of everything. They like to say they have been there and some of


them will have been bruised, battered or even shop are wearing


those badges as on it. I have been on the front line, I have been


engaged, without thinking what they have been doing. One reason why the


UVF may have decided to escalate the violence is money. Some


committee workers have told us that what they believe they UVF wants is


a greater share of government funding, in particular, another �4


million contested space programme. Part of this money remains to be


distributed by the Office of the Deputy First Ministers and other


bodies. Spotlight has been told that in last week's meeting between


loyalists and Peter Robinson, money was not discussed, but elements of


the voluntary sector remain deeply worried. Those we have spoken to


fear that some of the money earmarked for the loyalist


communities will end up in the hands of paramilitaries already


trying to muscle in on government funding and jobs. They say that


across Northern Ireland, paramilitaries are attempting to


seize control of The areas in order to squeeze up community


organisations who have been at the coalface of some of the most


deprived loyalist areas for decades. Some have been intimidated. They


say it would put themselves and their colleagues in danger if they


appeared on camera. Solving the problem, they are putting


themselves as the ones who are worthy of public funding and public


support. Public funding is just trying up at the moment and public


funding, which plots of organisations, not necessarily


connected to any church, very good organisations, are being run by


ordinary working-class women and men in East Belfast, will not have


access to is that world has access In March the Executive set out


plans to tackle poverty with funding of �80 million. They are


looking for what they feel are their just rewards and a slice of


whatever funding is available from government. There is �80 million


that should be divided between Unionist and nationalist


communities. There are those who want to make sure they get their


share of that particular pie. man believes that decisions being


made by government should be about protecting the peace process.


should want the peace process to work, at any price. And what is


that price? If we can buy off pad - - paramilitaries. If that can be


done, then the groups can be drawn into the centre. Whatever it costs


to keep them there, is what it will cost. The reality is it is not


working. Within local communities, paramilitaries still control those


communities. Back in East Belfast, those on the peace line are still


coming to terms with the events of last week. We have this trouble


every couple of months. Those men who came out the other night, they


protected the ones in the area, children are getting involved now.


The we are just surviving at the moment. We are not living, we are


existing. -- we are just surviving at the moment. We just sit there.


You cannot relax. You cannot even read the paper because you have no


concentration. We have no life at the minute, no life what the


weather. Joining me now in the studio Sammy Douglas, Mr Kelly and


Drove run Gibson and restaurant McCrea. -- Reverend Gibson and


reverent McCrea. Deer it except the claim in that film that the


violence was switched on by the UVF in Belfast on Monday? I do not.


There has been a build up over many months of this more attacks. They


have been managed for years. Someone took their eye off the ball


and nothing justified what happened on Monday. So at 100 men -- so, 100


men wearing masks and rioting. Sadly, everyone took their eye off


the ball. Is there a much simpler explanation than the one you put


forward? Obviously there was a leader. It did not happen in a


vacuum. It is clear that the UVF and the paramilitaries were in the


middle of the rioting that was taking place. Young people were


afraid to come away from the riots. Some did, but others were afraid to


be removed by youth workers who went down to try and encourage


children away from the scene. you are clear that the tap was


turned on and then off, in both cases by UVF leaders in East


Belfast? I am clear about ordinary people in East Belfast who are


hesitant to speak out against the paramilitary world. The taxi man


who drove me here this evening asked what might take on it was? He


said that he would not want those people coming to his door. Earlier


this evening, a man who works and the communities said to me, David,


watch yourself. They will not like what you are saying. So what do you


say to Mervyn Gibson about his understanding of the situation? Do


you think he is ignoring the elephant in the brain? Do you think


the paramilitaries want to move into areas like East Belfast to


access of funding? Do you say he is not accepting it, or he is not


aware of it? I am not disagreeing with Mervyn that there was not a


build up to miss -- this. What I am saying is East Belfast has a strong


paramilitary Belfast. The majority of people, certainly in East


Belfast and the people I connect with on a day-to-day basis do not


want to be hold their community in fear. Who has the power to take


kids out on the streets like that for their own ends? I was at a


community meeting and it was said that it is all about funding.


you saying you don't hear that at all? I am not. I do hear people say


that. All I can do is talk to the local people and see what they


believe. It depends on who you listen to. Paramilitaries are part


of our communities. Same with Republican key amenities. Does that


mean assisting them to access public funds to become community


workers, what does it mean standing up and saying, go away. You're part


of the problem and not the solution. I don't see it as them and us.


Paramilitaries are part of the community. Well, paramilitary


backgrounds are different from paramilitary presence. If I saw


anyone trying to muscle in, I would be the first one to cry out against


it. There is a new ones between the ministers regarding their take on


what is happening. Is there anything positive about what is


going on in East Belfast? Then need to go away and they need the help.


I was at the meeting at Stormont Castle. The paramilitaries said


they were under pressure from local communities, and the PSNI will tell


you there have been attacks on both communities. There has been a


build-up to this over the past few months. But at those meetings it


was clear as a bell. They said, it is not about money. They said it


was about safety. What were they promise that the meeting to turn


the violence off? We said we would speak to the police and other


agencies to ensure that people's houses would be fixed up. The PSNI


would have a presence on the ground and we would work together to


ensure that violence didn't happen. They is an irony in that. Those


people who wanted safety and were promised safety at that meeting


were responsible, at least in a fairly significant way, for the


violence that happened on Monday and Tuesday night. Their people's


on the ground were throwing fireworks, petrol bombs and firing


guns. The UVF were involved. Houses on both sides were attacked and


there was violence from both sides. The balance out of control. As


Shaun Murray said, none of us envisaged what happened. It took us


all by shock, to be honest. heard from Shaun Murray in that


film saying that republicans were quick to bring guns out as well. He


spoke about a vacuum. If the situation goes unchecked there will


be a vacuum and the danger is it will be filled by dissident


republicans. How concerned a you about that? On the one hand they


are saying the reasons behind this riot is money. There have been


attacks on both sides leading up to with though. There has been a


change in East Belfast. The palate news 3 -- the pan and -- the


paramilitary murals were taken away and the UVF have started putting


them back up again. They have had an influence, particularly in the


marching season. Do you think it is about a group of paramilitary


leaders wanting at cut off the money -- a cut of the money? I'd do


not think they should get any money. -- I do not think they should get


any money. I it would be very worried, and let me make this clear,


at the worst possible times I have argued there should be talks with


people, but it the talk instalment is to give money to UVF, it is not


the way to go. Are you concerned that too many people are too quick


to understand and be empathetic with the people who rioted last


week? I want the paramilitary world to move away from their past.


say they won that as well. -- they want that as well. Well, they will


not move away from their past if they hold their communities in fear.


It will not win the admiration and respect of the local community.


They put up flags, murals. Do you think paramilitary leaders are


Bernie Friday voices -- bona fide voices for the communities they


claim to represent? Not if they hold their communities in fear. If


they are going to be community workers, do exactly that. Stop


holding people in fear. You cannot have both. You cannot be a


paramilitary and a community representative. People need to


Spotlight reports on the violence which engulfed an East Belfast interface - the worst rioting there in many years - and investigates why it happened.

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