Young people are being "cynically used" by "more sinister elements of society" to cause disorder, according to the Police Federation for Northern Ireland chairman.
Mark Lindsay said a "perfect storm" had emerged linked to various issues, including the decision not to prosecute Sinn Féin members in relation to the funeral of Bobby Storey and problems over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Lindsay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are young people who are being cynically used by older, more sinister elements of society — more than likely aligned to what we would call paramilitary, but which in anywhere else are criminal organisations and large criminal gangs, and young people are often the cannon fodder they use to go onto the streets to attack police.”
A total of 41 police officers have been injured in the violence, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said on Tuesday.
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.
Nine more officers were injured on Monday evening in Ballymena, Co Antrim, during disorder around an illegal loyalist parade.
The North's unionist parties demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne following the decision last week not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for their attendance at the funeral of Bobby Storey in apparent breach of the Covid-19 rules in force at the time.
Asked about First Minister Arlene Foster’s call for his resignation, Mr Lindsay said: “Everybody is concerned around the lack of confidence that political leaders have in the chief constable. I don’t think that’s a good or sustainable position.
“Our officers still require a chief constable and I think there needs to be some political will to actually either underpin or remove him.
“The proper mechanism for that is the policing board, of which all political parties are represented. So they hired him two years ago and it’s up to them then to make the decision around that. Certainly our members are very disturbed around the political use of commentary that says the chief constable should resign.”
Minister of Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive Naoimi Long told RTE’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday:
“I think it is a rather preposterous situation that we have the first minister of Northern Ireland refusing to meet the chief constable as his own officers, over 40 of them, are being injured on the streets.
“I don’t believe that is a sustainable position and we cannot have a situation in Northern Ireland where politicians can simply demand the resignation of people who are meant to be policing the whole community - that cannot be the process.
“I have spoken with Simon Byrne, as recently as yesterday and he is continuing to do the hard work of trying to lead the police through an incredibly difficult period.”