High level contacts between Dublin, London and Belfast continue as riots ease

Government plays down Jeffrey Donaldson’s comments critical of Simon Coveney

Intensive contacts between Dublin, London and Belfast will continue over the coming days amid further warnings from unionist politicians about opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol, though rioting eased over the weekend.

Government sources played down comments by the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson on Sunday when he criticised Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney for "lecturing" Northern politicians.

Senior figures in Dublin also declined to be drawn on reports in the British media that the Government had sought an emergency meeting with the British government, though Mr Coveney has been scheduled to travel to London this week. Sources said that high level contacts between the two governments and the Northern parties were continuing.

The unrest has been linked to mounting unease in unionist and loyalist communities over the Brexit-related Northern Ireland protocol and the decision not to prosecute anybody over alleged Covid-19 rule breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.


Mr Donaldson said there was a "political crisis" that required engagement from both Dublin and London, and that British prime minister Boris Johnson needed to realise that unionists felt their "sense of Britishness" was being "stripped away" by the Northern Ireland protocol, which treats the North differently than other parts of the UK after Brexit.

"I think the Irish Government need to recognise as well – and particularly Simon Coveney. If he's listening to this programme I hope he hears this message – we need to see an end to the lectures of unionism that they're just going to have to suck it up in terms of the Northern Ireland protocol," Mr Donaldson told RTÉ's This Week programme.

“The Irish Government needs to understand what is going on here. There is a real danger that the political institutions, if action is not taken to address the concerns that have been raised, that they will be destabilised to the point where I would be very fearful about what will happen,” he said.

“I don’t want that, I want the political institutions to work, but politics has to be seen to be delivering. Unionist leaders have to be able to reassure their communities that politics can deliver and the politics of the street is not the answer,” Mr Donaldson said.

‘Child abuse’

Meanwhile, the North’s commissioner for children and young people has said that adults goading children into firing missiles during the riots that raged in the North for over a week was child abuse.

Koulla Yiasouma described those seen applauding and encouraging children as young as 12 to charge sectarian flashpoints as "criminal exploitation and coercion by adults" of vulnerable and at-risk children and young people. "These adults have to be held to account and have to be stopped," she said.

In total, 88 police officers have been injured during 12 nights of street violence centred in loyalist areas of Belfast, Derry and Co Antrim, but which escalated last week to sectarian rioting along a peace wall in west Belfast. Saturday night was the first night for more than a week without any major disturbance.

Ms Yiasouma said “criminal actors” were involved in encouraging children to throw stones and petrol bombs.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday morning magazine programme, Broadcasting House, if it was child abuse, she said that “is a very loaded term” but that the actions of the adults involved “is absolutely within that group of behaviours that lead to harm for our children and young people. I would put it in that group”.

Former Northern Ireland secretary of state Peter Hain urged Mr Johnson to visit Belfast and meet loyalists.

Mr Hain said the British government “simply haven’t told the truth” about the consequences of “the Brexit they pursued”, including a de facto trade border on the Irish Sea, and that the loyalist community “feels it is being lied to”.

Loyalism “needs to be listened to and it hasn’t been”, he said.