The Irish Times view on violence in Northern Ireland: a salutary reminder
Joint statement issued by the political parties in Derry is an encouraging sign
The outbreak of violence in Belfast and Derry in recent days is a salutary reminder of the dangers of allowing the political vacuum in Northern Ireland to continue indefinitely. While the rioting has been confined to limited areas of both cities it has the capacity to spread as loyalists in Belfast and republicans in Derry feed off each other.
This has already heightened tensions, as evidences by loyalists’ claims that the PSNI has been more lenient in its dealings with republican thuggery in Derry than with loyalist violence in East Belfast. The violence in Derry has been going on since the beginning of the week, with small bands of youths from the mainly nationalist Bogside attacking houses in the loyalist Fountain area. Dissident republicans fired on police while gangs of rioters attacked with petrol bombs and also intimidated contractors, hijacked vehicles and damaged sheltered accommodation.
The one positive thing to emerge from the episode was that it prompted a rare unified statement of condemnation from the DUP, Sinn Féin, Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Alliance parties in the city. They agreed the gunfire was a clear and obvious attempt to murder police officers and they called for a strong, clear and united voice against those who engage in such disgraceful violence.
The loyalist violence in East Belfast was prompted by a PSNI operation to dismantle material assembled for a number of huge bonfires which posed a real threat to nearby property. When efforts to negotiate their transfer to safer positions failed they were dismantled by masked contractors operating under police protection. This prompted serious disorder, including the use of a pipe bomb. The incidents in Belfast and Derry should serve as a warning to politicians from the mainstream parties about the need to work together to ensure that Northern Ireland does not slip back into a cycle of sectarian violence.
The statement issued by the parties in Derry is an encouraging sign. Hopefully it could be the first step in a serious effort to get the power-sharing institutions up and running again.