Police were injured as loyalists rioted in Belfast city centre after a controversial vote on the Union flag.

The violence spread to parts of east Belfast last night where loyalists who had earlier tried to smash their way into the grounds of City Hall attacked a Catholic church.

A police spokeswoman said reinforcements had to be called in to deal with hundreds of loyalists throwing missiles, including fireworks, bricks and bottles.

belfast

Loyalists confront Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as they try to force their way into Belfast City Hall


Five police officers, including two women, were injured during the disturbances.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokeswoman said: "Five police officers have been injured, two of whom have been hospitalised. Two security staff of Belfast City Hall have also been injured."

It is understood a press photographer was also taken to hospital for treatment for hand and facial injuries.

Trouble broke out minutes after Belfast city councillors voted to remove the flag from City Hall.

It is the first time the Union flag has been taken down from the Edwardian building since it opened in 1906.

Councillors agreed by 29 votes to 21 to bring City Hall into line with Stormont and other Government buildings and fly the flag on 17 designated days.

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said the PSNI had serious questions to answer about their operation.

He said: "I have to say, and I don't use these words unless I really mean them, it was a disgraceful police operation - or lack of a police operation.

"If that had been 1,000 or more republicans out there ... they would not have left it that they were able to come into the back of City Hall.

"They indiscriminately attacked cars. We are very, very lucky that they didn't get into the building or we could have been dealing with a lot more injuries."

Cars belonging to elected members and council staff were damaged during the disorder.

DUP councillor Christopher Stalford condemned those responsible for violence.

He said: "There can be absolutely no excuse for the violence which ensued after the result of the vote on the flying of the Union flag.

"The violence has distracted from the issue we should be focusing on - the parties in Belfast City Council who have voted as a block to strip the City Hall of its flag."

The volatile situation in east Belfast had calmed by 11pm. The PSNI deployed its helicopter and riot squad officers in Land Rovers to monitor the large crowd gathered at Albertbridge Road and Newtownards Road.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford added his condemnation.

He said: "The violence which took place at the City Hall and round St Matthew's Church was the responsibility of two groups of people. The first is those who went to the City Hall spoiling for a fight, who attacked police officers and council staff.

"But there is a second group which bears responsibility. DUP and UUP politicians fomented this protest, with both leaflets and the use of social media. They called people on to the streets. They must have known, from experience as recent as this summer, that violence was almost inevitable. They cannot avoid their responsibility.

"Such violence should be condemned by all civic and community leaders."
end

Loading Slideshow...
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland officers move forward to protect Belfast City Hall as a Protestant mob approaches, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. The mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists confront Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as they try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. The Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists confront Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as they try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. The Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists hold a British flag inside the grounds of Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. A Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists confront Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as they try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. The Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists confront Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as the protesters try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. The Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists clash with Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as the protesters try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. A Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists clash with Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as the protesters try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. The Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Loyalists clash with Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as the protesters try to force their way into Belfast City Hall, in Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. A Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police Monday night after the council voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland said five of their officers and two security guards were injured during the hour-long melee outside city hall. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors, some of them carrying British flags, clash with police as city councilors debate whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall, outside City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. A Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police after the council’s Catholic majority voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. Authorities say two police officers and a security guard were wounded during Monday night’s melee in the parking lot of the city hall. (AP Photo/PA, Paul Faith) UNITED KINGDOM OUT, NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors, some of them carrying British flags, gather as councillors debate whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall, outside City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. A Protestant mob stormed into the grounds of Belfast City Hall and clashed with police after the council’s Catholic majority voted to remove the British flag from the building for most of the year. Authorities say two police officers and a security guard were wounded during Monday night’s melee in the parking lot of the city hall. (AP Photo/PA, Paul Faith) UNITED KINGDOM OUT, NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags break through the gate of the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.

  • Belfast City Hall flag debate

    Loyalist protestors carrying Union flags clash with police outside the City Hall in Belfast where councillors are debating whether or not to keep the flag flying at City Hall. Currently the flag is flown every day of the year at the building. Nationalist councillors want it removed as they argue that this would create a more equal and neutral environment.