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News Report – Gunfire in Belfast After Riots

The situation in Northern Ireland took a savage turn in the wrong direction as Protestant Loyalists shoot at police.

The latest round round of battles in Northern Ireland began when a policy of restricting the number of days the Union flag could be flown over government buildings.

After the Good Friday agreement over 10 years ago an uneasy peace has existed in Northern Ireland. The IRA which represented the Catholic sector of the province laid down its arms and so did the Protestant organisations like the UVF.

But this was always a fragile situation, with the Protestant Unionist sector determined to stay part of the United Kingdom and the mainly Catholic side favouring an end to partition and Northern Ireland joining with the Republic in the South.

The flag issue gets to the heart of the problem. The Protestant side is ever watchful for signs that the Republicans are gaining influence – and the rationing of the Union flag is a potent symbol for them.

Before the latest problems there have been terrorist acts from dissident Republicans who have not accepted the peace process. The latest was the killing of a prison office as he drove to work.

Now it seems the Ulster Volunteer Force representing the Protestant side has decided to retaliate by taking to the streets.

As ever the police stand in the middle. They have been attacked with fire bombs, stones and fireworks in a demonstration in Belfast city centre.

After the demonstration was dispersed – shots were fired at them in a serious escalation of the troubles.

A senior Police Officer Derek Spence led a call for more support for the police. “We are seriously short of resources,” he said. The most important being manpower. Police forces are down to 7000 where 10 years ago we had 10,000.”

Police forces all over the UK are facing cuts but the situation in Ulster is entirely different. The question is, will more funds be made available to help police contain this escalation – or will the UK Government and Chancellor George Osborne be reluctant to produce extra funding.

The rationing of the number of days the Union flag could fly was meant as a gesture towards the divided nature of Northern Ireland. Reinstating the flag is certain to cause even more problems on the Republican side. Politicians from both sides of the divide say they are devoted to making the peace work.

Their task has just got a lot harder, as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had to recognise on her recent visit. 

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