Fears mount of another night of violence in Northern Ireland

Politicians appeal for calm after 27 police officers injured during riots North Ireland

April 2nd, 2021: Eight police officers have been injured in rioting in the loyalist area of Sandy Row, Belfast. Video: Reuters

 

Disturbances have broken out on the streets in Newtownabbey, near Belfast, amid fears there may be another night of trouble ahead in Northern Ireland.

Three cars were hijacked and set on fire in the loyalist O’Neill/Doagh Road area on Saturday evening.

A large crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the unrest.

Police said on Saturday evening that they were responding following reports of disorder at the Cloughfern roundabout in the O’Neill’s Road area of Newtownabbey.

Video footage has emerged of cars being burned out and a police van being targeted.

Earlier the Police Service of Northern Ireland said two boys, aged 13 and 14, are among eight people arrested in connection with riots in a loyalist area of Belfast.

Three men aged 25, 21 and 18 years old and a 19-year-old female have been charged with riot.

All four are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court on Friday, April 30th. All charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.

Three males aged 17, 14 and 13 years old have all been charged with riot.

The trio are due to appear at Belfast Youth Court, also on April 30th. The charges will also be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.

The charges are in relation to the disorder that occurred at the Sandy Row area of south Belfast on Friday 2nd April.

A 19 year old man also arrested following the disorder last night has been released on police bail pending further enquiries.

Fifteen police officers were injured on Friday evening after being targeted in Sandy Row by a crowd of mostly young people throwing bottles, bricks and fireworks.

“It’s a tragedy that any child, because let’s bear in mind a 13-year-old is a young child, I think it’s a tragedy that any child in Northern Ireland is sitting in a custody suite this morning, and facing criminal investigation, possibility of being charged and possibility of facing a criminal conviction,” said Chief Supt Simon Walls.

On Saturday afternoon he urged anyone with influence in the loyalist community to dissuade young people from causing violence.

“It shouldn’t happen . . . It’s not the way to resolve tensions or arguments.”

A 13-year-old boy is among eight people arrested in connection with the disturbances. Heavy masonry, metal rods, fireworks and manhole covers were thrown at police.

Meanwhile, Derry experienced a fifth successive night of disturbances in the mostly unionist Waterside area of the city.

Derry City and Strabane area commander Chief Supt Darrin Jones said police received reports on Friday night of youths gathering in the areas of Nelson Drive and Tullyally.

“On their arrival, they came under sustained attack from a large group of youths and young adults throwing masonry, bottles, petrol bombs and fireworks,” he said.

“As a result 12 officers sustained injuries including head, leg and foot wounds.” Mr Jones also said a care home was damaged in the Nelson Drive area during the trouble causing “untold fear and distress” to residents.

Northern Ireland DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has appealed to young people not to get “drawn into disorder” over the Easter weekend, saying violence “will not make things better”.

She said: “I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better. And I send my strong support to all of the rank-and-file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend. I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives.”

She also asked parents to “play their part and be proactive in protecting their young adults”.

‘Ratcheting up the rhetoric’

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said unionist and loyalist political leaders needed to calm down the situation in Northern Ireland and ensure there is no repeat of Friday’s night’s disturbance.

Mr Ó Broin said unionists politicians had been “ratcheting up the rhetoric” around the Northern Ireland protocol for several weeks and loyalist organisations organising protests “and then you have this street violence”.

“The real losers in this in the first instance are the young people who are now arrested and are going to have criminal records, are the communities in Sandy Row and the village who have to get up today and clean up their community.

“And then the political stability of what is a very precarious position in the minute in the North.”

Asked by Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One if Sinn Féin had done enough in the aftermath of growing tensions following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for attending a the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey during Covid-19 restrictions, he replied: “People have got things wrong and I think Michelle’s [O’Neill’s] statement at the time made that very clear. But what also then happened was people rightly then called for a PSNI investigation. A report was then forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service. They have made their recommendations and their recommendations are not to proceed with prosecutions.”

He said political leaders, including Sinn Féin, had to ensure they did everything to manage the public health message correctly.

“We need everybody to work together to calm the situation, particularly in terms of how some unionists are using the issue of the protocol in very, very questionable ways politically.”

Earlier, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis appealed for calm , describing the unrest as “completely unacceptable”.

“Violence is never the answer. There is no place for it in society . . . I fully support the PSNI appeal for calm,” said Mr Lewis.

He added that his thoughts were with the eight officers injured.

The disorder has flared amid ongoing tensions within loyalism across Northern Ireland.

Some loyalists and unionists are angry about post-Brexit trading arrangements which they claim have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community, over how the Storey’s funeral was dealt with by the police.

In a statement on the PSNI Twitter account Chief Supt Walls called for calm.

“Eight officers have so far been injured . . . Their injuries include burns, head and leg injuries. Seven people have been arrested at the scene. I am appealing to all those involved to stop this appalling behaviour immediately. Police are trying to protect those living in the Shaftesbury Square, Donegall Road and Sandy Row areas and it is completely unacceptable that my officers are coming under sustained attack.”

The incident on Friday evening started in the Shaftesbury Square area before moving into nearby Sandy Row.

The Sandy Row disturbances, which unfolded ahead of a planned loyalist protest in the area, were met with widespread political condemnation on Friday night. However, unionist leaders were accused of creating the febrile atmosphere and stoking up tensions.

Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “This is in no one’s best interests – not the officers dealing with it and not the mostly young people risking their futures by engaging in it. It’s incumbent on leaders to behave responsibly and dial down the inflammatory rhetoric over recent days. Words have consequences.”

Disorder

SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna expressed her disappointment, saying it was “sad to see disorder in Sandy Row. Usual suspects with no vision whip up tension for electoral gain . . . there’s a better way.”

DUP MLA for the area Christopher Stalford said that “given the actions of the Deputy First Minister some folks may believe that they can break the rules. That is not the case – two wrongs don’t make a right. The vast majority of people involved in this incident were under the age of 18. I do not want to see young people, acting out of frustration at recent developments landing themselves in trouble with the law and ending up with criminal records.”

Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey said the DUP and political unionism “are failing unionist working-class communities through their dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric which is continuing to lead to heightened tensions.

He said this is a time for calm heads and responsible leadership.

“I appeal to the DUP and political unionism to show leadership, to end their dangerous rhetoric and to ensure there is an urgent de-escalation of tensions.”

In response to the incident, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie tweeted: “Stop please . . . this is not going to help anyone or change anything. It damages and endangers your own community, it undermines any grievance you might have and it will achieve nothing.” – PA