Belfast protest: Boy, 12, arrested as 100 youths clash with police over Northern Ireland protocol

A senior police leader has pleaded for calm over the Northern Ireland protocol as a 12-year-old boy was arrested after a hundred rioters attacked officers at a rally.

Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said he was "saddened" after police were attacked with missiles and fireworks close to a peace line in Belfast on Wednesday evening.

The chaotic scenes erupted on Lanark Way in the loyalist Shankill Road area, while disorder also flared on the nationalist Springfield Road side of the peace wall.

Two boys aged 12 and 15 were arrested on suspicion of riotous behaviour and have since been released on bail as police inquiries continue.

No officers or civilians were hurt, but three PSNI vehicles were damaged and had to be removed from duty, in the latest unrest to rock the city.

"Everyone has the right to protest and we have an obligation to facilitate protest, but there is a time and there is a place and the organisers must have reasonably expected what would happen when the protest was there," said Mr Jones, the Belfast area commander.

"I would appeal to the community, those with influence in the community to use that influence positively to make the right decisions, try and reduce tensions in the area and appeal for calm."

Protests erupt

Loyalists clash with police during a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Belfast

Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Missiles were fired at police in Belfast

Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Police leaders called for calm over the Northern Ireland protocol

Credit: Peter Morrison/AP

There was a heavy police presence at the scene amid fierce clashes

Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Police leaders call for calm

The police leader for Belfast, Mr Jones, added that the violence was "fairly serious".

"At one stage there were up to 100 people on both sides of the interface attacking police officers," he told BBC Radio Ulster. 

Referring to the two arrests, he said: "It is shocking and will have life-changing consequences for those children.

"Most of the crowd who were attacking police, and attacking them in a sustained way with bottles, masonry, fireworks, were from that age, about early teens to early 20s.

"It was a protest we believe, organised by older people against the protocol. But where it was, in relation to the interface, in relation to a very volatile area, it could have been reasonably been expected by those organisers that it would increase tension, it would increase onlookers.

Police warned of further unrest in the months to come

Credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The Northern Ireland protocol has proven contentious in the city

Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

"What happened was the protest itself was peaceful, but once it did go in, the onlookers then who had gathered they put their attention to police and attacked the police."

The senior officer expressed concern about future protests against the protocol.

"It saddens me, the officers who were being attacked last night were not providing local policing, they weren’t dealing with domestic abuse, they weren’t dealing with anti-social behaviour, they weren’t dealing with drug dealing, all those things that impact on society," he warned.

"Many of those officers who were attacked last night were from the local neighbourhood teams."

Latest violence to flare

Earlier this week, a bus was burnt out in Newtownards in an attack politicians linked to loyalist opposition to the protocol.

The attack in the predominantly unionist area happened on the exact date set by the DUP earlier this autumn to pull down institutions at Stormont if major changes to the protocol had not been secured.

It was condemned by unionist leaders.

The DUP has not yet withdrawn ministers from the executive branch, insisting progress is being made in efforts to dismantle the contentious Irish Sea border.

Opposition to the protocol that has created trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was a factor behind rioting that flared in several loyalist areas across the region in April.

In April, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "deeply concerned" after a bus was hijacked and set on fire after being pelted with petrol bombs at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road in west Belfast.

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