Police, politicians and clerics appeal for end to loyalist violence

A total of 32 police officers injured in Belfast and Derry disturbances over Easter weekend

Petrol bombs and masonry were thrown at police during disturbances in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus in Co Antrim on Sunday. Photograph: Photopress

Petrol bombs and masonry were thrown at police during disturbances in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus in Co Antrim on Sunday. Photograph: Photopress

 

Senior police officers, politicians and church leaders in the North called on Monday for an end to rioting in loyalist areas and appealed to those with influence in communities to use it to prevent further attacks on police.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Supt Davy Beck described the “orchestrated” violence as “senseless and reckless” and said there was “absolutely no justification for the shameful scenes we have witnessed on our streets”.

He said police would be ready to deploy additional resources if needed on Monday night.

Chairman of the Police Federation Mark Lindsay said the violence was being orchestrated by loyalist paramilitaries, and it was “not uncommon in Northern Ireland for older, more sinister elements to be behind bringing young people onto the streets”.

He appealed for “the space to be given for people with influence to bring some of this under control”.

In a joint statement, the Church of Ireland bishops in Northern Ireland said the violence was “wrong and should stop immediately” and said any grievances should be addressed in the political arena.

Five officers were injured when petrol bombs and masonry were thrown at police during disturbances in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus in Co Antrim on Sunday.

In the Dungiven Road area of Derry, children as young as 12 were among those who “pelted” police with petrol bombs, fireworks and masonry including an entire kerbstone which was thrown at a policeman’s chest.

A total of 32 police officers were injured in disturbances in Belfast and Derry over the Easter weekend.

Chief Supt Davy Beck said police believed “a small group of disaffected criminal elements” was “clearly involved in influencing young people” and he appealed to young people in those areas “not to allow this to happen.

“I think it’s also fair to say there’s probably no coincidence to this that we have been successful in that area in respect of some of these criminal gangs. So I think this perhaps has been a reaction from some of those people who are involved in criminality,” he said.

In the Newtownabbey area the police have made drug seizures against the breakaway loyalist faction the South East Antrim UDA, which is believed to be behind the disturbances.

Elsewhere senior sources indicated that loyalist paramilitaries have been stoking tensions among young people, but there is not believed to be any overall co-ordination.

Mounting anxiety

Tensions have been heightened in loyalist areas because of opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol and the decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for attending the Bobby Storey funeral in June. On that occasion they appeared to break the Covid-19 rules and guidance in force at the time.

It has also exacerbated divisions within the North’s Executive. The DUP and UUP have called for the resignation of the North’s Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, claiming he no longer has the confidence of the unionist community.

DUP MLA for Foyle Gary Middleton said on Monday that Sinn Féin’s “disregard for the rule of law has caused this political crisis.”

He condemned the violence as “totally wrong and cannot be justified” but said the rule of law “must be applied equally and fairly” and “it was the failure to do that which has caused the lack of confidence in the chief constable.”

However SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said unionist leaders should “take some responsibility for the incendiary rhetoric they have been using over many weeks. They need to show some leadership before the consequences become even more severe.”

Alliance MLA John Blair said those who had “spent time undermining police and whipping up fear and tension have to shoulder their part of the blame for what we have seen. Anyone in a position of political leadership must think their words and actions through carefully or else we may see more the scenes we have witnessed recently.”