Belfast riots renew calls for Protestant-Catholic dialogue
Young Protestants and Catholics in east Belfast clashed again Tuesday night in violence that appears to involve splinter paramilitary groups with murky aims.
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Local police said that as many as 400 people participated in the violence and that a news photographer was wounded in a shooting in one of Belfast's most tense neighborhoods. In an effort to break up the fights, police fired at least 66 plastic bullets but made only one arrest: a young woman was detained on suspicion of possession of a firearm and assaulting police.
While police and locals blamed the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for sparking the violence on Monday and being involved in fighting last night, an unnamed dissident republican splinter group may be equally to blame in Tuesday's melee.
The violence has already led to calls for renewed dialogue between Protestant and Catholic groups, especially as it becomes evident that splinter paramilitary groups are trying to revive discord along political and religious lines.
“In the past there, we had an interface group where Short Strand community leaders would call me or someone else [and vice versa] if there was trouble brewing. I think there was a feeling from Sinn Féin that it was a policing responsibility – and I can see their point – but now we, on both sides of the community, want to see those structures reestablished. Similar initiatives are going on to resolve issues in other parts of Belfast," says Sammy Douglas, a local lawmaker with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who has worked as a community activist in east Belfast.
Marching season nears
Many local leaders say the spike in sectarian violence – coupled with the increasingly murky picture of which groups are involved – is especially troubling as Northern Ireland's always-tense "marching season" approaches.
“The main thing now is to ensure the violence stops before it gets inflamed,” says Mr. Douglas.
During the marching season, which reaches its high point on July 12 but continues until the end of August, the Protestant Orange Institution and associated groups – including bands named after loyalist paramilitary organizations – parade throughout Northern Ireland.