2012 North Belfast riots

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2012 North Belfast Riots
  • 12 July 2012 (2012-07-12)
  • 25 August 2012
  • 2–4 September 2012 (2012-09-04)
Location North Belfast, West Belfast
Resulted in
  • 92 PSNI officers injured
  • Damage to cars and property
  • High tensions in the area
  • Strong criticism of the Parades Commission
Lead figures
92 PSNI officers injured
25+ arrests

During the 2012 North Belfast Riots sectarian disorder and rioting between loyalists and republicans occurred when rival parades, authorised by the Parades Commission, took place.

12 July riot[edit]

The first incident occurred on 12 July 2012 during the "The Twelfth" Loyalist celebrations. Catholic rioting had been common in recent years[citation needed] when the parades were forced through the mostly Irish nationalist Ardoyne in North Belfast. The local Orangemen paraded down the predominantly Ulster loyalist Crumlin Road towards the loyalist Woodvale area. Before turning into the Woodvale they were met by Irish republican[citation needed] protesters and a nearby counter-parade organised by GARC (Greater Ardoyne Residents Association). Nationalists then attacked the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the parade with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs.

There was also violence in the Bogside area of Derry, where petrol bombs were thrown at police and a car set alight. In south and east Belfast there were five arrests for a variety of offences including disorderly behaviour.[1]

Prolonged attacks on the PSNI by Catholics followed the parades with missiles being thrown at police lines.[citation needed] Three cars were hijacked and pushed at police lines with at least one of them being set on fire, and at night 10 shots were fired at police by a nationalist gunman who intended to kill police officers.[citation needed] On 18 July 2012, a 47-year-old man was charged with attempted murder of the police officers.[2] The PSNI blamed the violence on "thugs" and made a further 26 arrests across Northern Ireland relating to the trouble.[3]

In another incident during a different parade, a Shankill Road-based loyalist band "The Young Conway Volunteers" was filmed by a Sinn Féin activist playing the "The Famine Song" outside St Patricks Catholic Church in Ardoyne.[4] The activist filming the incident was attacked by band members who tried to snatch the phone from him.[4] The incident brought condemnation, with Sinn Féin declaring it "provocative."[4] Protestant church leaders also condemned the incident as "blatantly sectarian".[5] It was this incident that was believed to have ignited tensions in the area which continued over the next few months.[6]

In the days that followed strong loyalist criticism was levelled at the Parades Commission blaming them for the violence. Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) accused the Parades Commission of making a "bizarre, crazy, and mad decision" to allow the nationalist parade to coincide with the Orange parade while Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly blamed the Orangemen for violating regulations set out by the Parades Commission.[7] The Parades Commission denied responsibility, explaining "We have to balance the rights of everybody concerned in parades, not just the rights of paraders, but the rights of people who live in the areas and the rights of police officers."[1]

25 August disorder[edit]

In the buildup to the Royal Black Institution March, also taking place in Ardoyne, the Parades Commission banned the loyalist band "The Young Conway Volunteers", who played the controversial Famine Song outside St Patrick's Catholic Church during the 12 July parade. During the march, however, the Young Conway Volunteers still marched past St. Patrick's in defiance of the ruling, leading to more rioting by nationalist youths.[8] Seven PSNI officers were injured (one female officer suffered minor head injuries) and three people, including a 13-year-old, were arrested for the riotous behaviour.[8]

The DUP and Sinn Féin again blamed opposite sides for the violence: the DUP's Nigel Dodds blamed nationalist protestors for the disorder and a Sinn Féin Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Carál Ní Chuilín, condemned loyalist bands for breaching regulations set out by the Parades Commission.[9]

2–4 September 2012 Riots[edit]

On 2 September 2012, a Republican parade, organised by the Henry Joy McCracken Flute Band and Republican Network for Unity which took place in North Belfast was deemed "uncontentious" by the Parades Commission. Tensions, however, between the Loyalist and Nationalist communities of North Belfast were still high leading to the worst rioting since July 2012.

As the parade passed through the Loyalist Carlisle Circus area, about 350 Loyalist youths attacked Republican marchers and PSNI lines with bricks, golf balls, fireworks, and petrol bombs. Loyalists launched attacks from Clifton Nursing Home whose residents were evacuated when windows were smashed and their bins were set on fire and used as barriers by Loyalists.[10] Nationalist "Network For Unity" claimed, "Republicans were showered with a barrage of bricks, stones, golf balls and bottles," and that women and children were injured as well.[11] However, during the parade, as supporters passed an Orange Hall at Clifton Lane, Nationalists hurled golf balls and bricks at the building.

On 3 September 2012 violence flared up again between the PSNI and Loyalist youths when about 100 Loyalists gathered at Denmark Street and about the same number of Nationalists at Antrim Road, both reported to be attacking police lines with petrol bombs, bricks and other missiles.[12] Eyewitnesses report that loyalists hijacked a bus and set fire to it near the scene of the previous nights rioting and that the PSNI have deployed water cannon in an effort to quell the violence[13] Reports say that in the Monday night violence 15 PSNI officers were injured, it has also been reported that the PSNI started to fire baton rounds to quell the violence.[12]

The next day, Assistant Chief Constable Kerr of the PSNI challenged politicians of Northern Ireland to "sort this out and sort it out now" in the run up to a loyalist march in honour of the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant on 29 September, fearing someone may be killed in the coming days and weeks. "Collectively, we cannot afford night after night of violence in our streets."

Sporadic retaliatory attacks between Loyalists and Nationalists, in the Denmark Street and Antrim Road areas, continued until at least 2:00 am the following morning. The PSNI used water cannons to keep Loyalists at bay in Denmark Street[14] and separated rival gangs of Loyalists and Nationalists at Antrim Road, Carlisle Circus.[15] The violence extended to other areas of Belfast when Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly alleged that a Catholic home in West Belfast had been attacked by Loyalists with petrol bombs.[16] Forty-seven PSNI officers were injured in the rioting; four required hospital treatment. So far seven men including a 19-year-old teenager in Denmark Street have been arrested in relation to the incident.[13][17]

In the aftermath, Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin) claimed that the Loyalist paramilitary group, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), was responsible for orchestrating the violence in North Belfast: "There was clearly a well-planned and orchestrated attempt yesterday to further heighten tensions in North Belfast around parading and it was, in my view, planned and orchestrated by the UVF."[18] Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) furiously denied this claim: "I just don't know where he got this from. I can categorically state that there was no involvement from the UVF in any way in this violence. The UVF are committed to the principles of the Good Friday agreement."[19] However, later the PSNI Chief Superintendent George Clark commented, "The violence did come from both sides of the community but initially, certainly, it came from within Loyalism. There was clearly orchestration, there's no doubt about that." However, he said it was too early to know whether Loyalist paramilitaries like the UVF were responsible for the orchestration.[20] Alban Maginness of the Social Democratic and Labour Party(SDLP) also claimed that paramilitary involvement was to blame for the trouble, but wasn't specific as to whether he suspected Loyalist or Nationalist paramilitaries.[21]

On 4 September 2012 The Guardian reported that "Loyalist Sources" were claiming that members of the UVF and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were involved in the violence.[22] Constable Kerr of the PSNI later said "We have no evidence that the UVF officially sanctioned or orchestrated the violence over the past couple of nights but you cannot have violence take place in those areas and not have members of Loyalist paramilitary groups involved." He added, "Undoubtedly there were people from those groups involved in the disorder but equally there were people from those groups trying to quell and restore order".[21] Deputy First Minister Martin Mcguinness issued a statement urging people to obey the rules set out by the Parade Commission.

Disorder continued for a third night in North Belfast on 4 September when a crowd of around 200 loyalists gathered in the troubled Denmark Street and pelted police lines with fireworks, bricks and stones. 3 PSNI officers sustained minor injuries in the trouble including a police inspector. However, on this night the police succeeded in dispersing the loyalist crowd, and water cannon which moved into the area, were withdrawn later without being used.[23][24]

On 5 September, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson issued a public statement, condemning those involved in the violence in North Belfast, and stated that he wanted to see the end of the Parades Commission. Whilst Deputy first minister Martin Mcguinness also condemned the riots as "deplorable, disgraceful, and shameful" and accused the Loyal Order of showing a "distinct lack of leadership." That same day the two men met for cross party talks involving North Belfast assembly members and local DUP MP Nigel Dodds.[25]

On 6 September, the Royal Black institution apologised "for any offence caused" to the clergy and parishioners of St Patricks Church when their bands marched past the church in defiance of the Parades Commission's ruling on 25 August, Fr Michael Sheehan of the church issued a statement stating that "I welcome this positive development, and the sincere Christian spirit behind it".[26]


  1. ^ a b "Owen Paterson in call over Northern Ireland parades". BBC News. 13 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Man charged with attempted murder during Ardoyne riot". BBC News. 18 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Young 'thugs' behind Ardoyne riots". UTV. 13 July 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c "Loyalist band filmed outside north Belfast Catholic church". BBC News. 13 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Blatantly sectarian: Protestant church leaders blast loyalist parade lawbreakers". The Belfast Telegraph. 31 August 2012. 
  6. ^ "Q&A: How St Patrick's became a flashpoint". BBC News. 30 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "Ardoyne riot provokes controversy over Parades Commission". 4ni.co.uk. 13 July 2004. 
  8. ^ a b "Three arrests after Belfast parade trouble". BBC News. 26 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "PSNI officers hurt in parade disorder". UTV. 25 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "BBC News - Reaction to parade violence in north Belfast". Bbc.co.uk. 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  11. ^ Chief Supt George Clarke. "Almost 50 police hurt in parade trouble - UTV Live News". U.tv. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  12. ^ a b Mark Simpson (2012-09-04). "BBC News - Police chief urges action as violence flares in Belfast". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  13. ^ a b Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent (3 September 2012). "Further disorder in north Belfast | UK news". London: theguardian.com. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  14. ^ "BBC News - Forty-seven PSNI officers are injured in Belfast parade clashes". Bbc.co.uk. 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  15. ^ Henry McDonald (2 September 2012). "Sectarian violence erupts in Belfast, injuring 26 police officers | UK news". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  16. ^ "Dozens Of Police Injured In Belfast Riot - Yahoo News UK". Uk.news.yahoo.com. 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  17. ^ "Teenager resists arrest over rioting - UTV Live News". U.tv. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  18. ^ "Savage Northern Ireland sectarian clash injures 47 police | Reuters". Uk.reuters.com. 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  19. ^ "Row over UVF violence claims - UTV Live News". U.tv. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  20. ^ Chief Constable Matt Baggott. "Trouble 'clearly orchestrated' - PSNI - UTV Live News". U.tv. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  21. ^ a b ACC Will Kerr. "Urgent parading solution needed - PSNI - UTV Live News". U.tv. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  22. ^ Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent (4 September 2012). "Belfast rioters 'tried to murder' police officers | UK news". London: theguardian.com. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  23. ^ Mark Simpson (2012-09-05). "BBC News - Missiles thrown at police during north Belfast trouble". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  24. ^ "PSNI injured on third night of trouble - UTV Live News". U.tv. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  25. ^ "BBC News - North Belfast riots: Martin McGuinness blames bigotry". Bbc.co.uk. 2012-09-05. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  26. ^ "BBC News - Royal Black Institution apology to St Patrick's Church over march". Bbc.co.uk. 2012-09-06. Retrieved 2014-01-22.