Union flag removed from Belfast City Hall

Empty flag pole at Belfast City Hall Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

For the first time in more than a century - there is no Union Flag flying above Belfast's City Hall tonight. Last night's controversial decision by councillors to remove it, at least on most days of the year, prompted hundreds of Loyalists to riot outside.

ITV News Correspondent Martin Geissler reports from Belfast:

An 18-year-old man has been referred to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland following Monday night's rioting. Two other men aged 17 and 22 have been released on bail. But hundreds of people took to the streets of Belfast on Monday night and politicians are now asking why the police were so unprepared for the riots.

Tensions had been running high over the controversial vote by Belfast City Councillors to remove the Union flag from the main council building. Loyalists believe the decision is a way of further eroding their identity, while Irish Nationalists councillors argued that its removal would "create a more equal society".

The original vote was amended to ensure that the flag would fly above city hall on designated days, in line with other political buildings such as Stormont. But when the result of the vote in favour of this amendment was read out hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside tried to break into the debate chamber.

Rioters tried to break into City Hall once the result of the vote was announced. Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Today Sinn Fein and Alliance Party politicians both questioned why police didn't monitor social media sites to predict the riots.

The Justice Minister for the Northern Irish Assemby David Ford said: "DUP and UUP politicians fomented this protest, with both leaflets and the use of social media. They called people on to the streets. They must have known, from experience as recent as this summer, that violence was almost inevitable."

A spokesperson for Sinn Fein also confirmed that Gerry Kelly, a member of the legislative assembly who was critical of the police operation had received death threats. Another councillor for the Alliance Party Laura McNamee, was advised by police to leave her home after a series of threatening comments were posted on Facebook. Around 100 Unionist supporters held a peaceful demonstration outside the offices of the Alliance Party this afternoon.

Campaigners hand a Union flag from the office of an Alliance MP Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire

The First Minister for Northern Ireland Peter Robinson this evening appealed for calm. "There is no excuse or justification for attacks on police officers, council staff, and property," he said.

"Such behaviour is not representative of those who campaigned to maintain the Union flag flying over Belfast City Hall."

"Those who talk most about building community relations have by their actions in the council substantially damaged relations across the city."

Despite face masks today's protests were peaceful Credit: Paul Faith/PA Wire