Northern Ireland Tory spokesman Trevor Ringland condemns violence that has left police officers injured as ‘thuggery’ Loyalists fanning the flames of the violent dispute over flying the union flag at Belfast city hall are undermining support for the union, according to a leading Northern Ireland Conservative and former international rugby star.

Mr. Trevor Ringland condemned those behind weeks of protests that have left more than 30 police officers injured.

Further protests against Belfast city council’s decision to limit the number of days the union flag flies at city hall to 17 are planned for Friday evening. Evening traffic is expected to be severely disrupted as loyalists block main arterial routes around Belfast.

On Thursday night, 10 police officers were injured in clashes with loyalist demonstrators in east Belfast, which the Police Service of Northern Ireland condemned as despicable. Police lines were bombarded with petrol bombs and missiles during the disorder close to a sectarian interface with the nationalist Short Strand area.

In response to the latest trouble, Ringland, the Tory spokesman in Northern Ireland, warned on Friday that ongoing violence linked to the flags protests was counterproductive for unionism.

“This disorder and violence against the police is simple thuggery and it will achieve absolutely nothing. Indeed the whole protest movement, if it has any effect at all, is likely to undermine support for the union,” Mr. Ringland said.

“It can’t be emphasised enough that the participants, who insist on describing themselves as ‘the people’, are a tiny minority of pro-union people and an even tinier minority of the whole community in Northern Ireland. The overwhelming majority of unionists, the overwhelming majority of the whole community, are doing exactly the right thing and getting on with their lives, despite the disruption.

“Rather than interrupt the economic life of the province, protesters could campaign for something constructive, like flying of the union flag on designated days everywhere in Northern Ireland,” he went on. “Let’s see our national symbol used constructively, to express the constitutional preference of the majority of people here, rather than divisively, to exclude part of the population.”

The Guardian has also learned that a new 10-man committee has been established to co-ordinate protests across Northern Ireland against the flag policy. Among those on the committee is a former Royal Air Force sergeant as well several loyalists from east Belfast and North Down.

The group has organised another loyalist rally to be held at city hall at the weekend.

Previous demonstrations in Belfast caused severe disruption to shopping in the run up to Christmas and two weeks ago ended in violence in east Belfast.

In the most serious incident a policewoman narrowly escaped a fire that engulfed her patrol car when it was hit with a petrol bomb during disturbances in the east of the city.

© Guardian News & Media 2013

Report from AP:

Northern Ireland police said nine police officers were injured and 18 rioters arrested in the second straight night of violent protests over flying the British flag.

Police said on Saturday that more than 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers, along with ball bearings, fireworks and bricks as they responded to clashes on Friday night in Protestant sections of Belfast.

Friday’s clashes come a day after 10 police were injured in east Belfast during a similar demonstration.

Many Protestants want Belfast City Council to reverse a December 3 decision to stop flying the British flag year-round, a move backed by Irish Catholics. Dozens of police have been injured in ensuing protests, and Protestant extremists have issued threats against politicians.

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