- Political leaders meet after another night of violence in Northern Ireland
- ‘We are gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets’
- Disorder flared again on Wednesday night, with a bus hijacked and burned in Belfast and clashes between loyalists and republicans at a peace line
- Taoiseach condemns the violence: ‘deeply concerning and in no one’s interests’
- ‘These are scenes many thought were consigned to history’ – Minister Coveney
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the White House have all called for calm following a week of riots and violence on a scale not seen in recent years. In the latest scenes, which took place in west Belfast on Wednesday night, a bus was hijacked and set on fire, petrol bombs, masonry and fireworks were thrown at police officers and a peace wall gate was set alight.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said police were investigating whether there was any paramilitary involvement.
Police quelled crowds of 600 people on either side of the peace walls that separate communities in the city and deployed a type of plastic bullet, as well as arresting two men, aged 18 and 28, on suspicion of rioting.
UK Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has arrived in Belfast to speak with First Minister Arlene Foster from the DUP and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from Sinn Fein to discuss the unrest.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke on the phone this evening. And in a press briefing the White House called for calm.
In a statement after the telephone call, the Taoiseach’s Office said the leaders spoke “about the concerning developments in Northern Ireland over the last number of days”.
“Stressing that violence is unacceptable, they called for calm. The way forward is through dialogue and working the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. They agreed that the two Governments would continue to stay in contact,” it added.
Ministers in the Stormont Executive earlier condemned the violence and rioting that has erupted in Northern Ireland, prompting united calls for calm to be restored.
The Northern Ireland Executive issued a joint statement following a meeting of the powersharing administration to discuss the escalating public disorder.
Ministers were given an update by PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
In a statement, the Executive said: “We are gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets over the last week, including those at the Lanark Way interface last night.
“Attacks on police officers, public services and communities are deplorable and they must stop.
“Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities.
“Those who would seek to use and abuse our children and young people to carry out these attacks have no place in our society.
“While our political positions are very different on many issues, we are all united in our support for law and order and we collectively state our support for policing and for the police officers who have been putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others.
“We, and our departments, will continue to work together to maximise the support we can give to communities and the PSNI to prevent further violence and unrest.”
The Stormont Assembly has been recalled from Easter recess for an emergency sitting on Thursday to debate the violence, which has mostly flared in loyalist areas.
The Assembly was recalled following a motion put forward by Alliance leader Naomi Long calling for MLAs to unequivocally condemn those involved and support the rule of law.
Speaking during the Assembly debate, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the scenes witnessed were “totally unacceptable”.
The First Minister said the injuries to police officers, harm to Northern Ireland’s image and people’s property has taken the region backwards.
Speaking remotely, Mrs Foster said: “Today is not the time to rehearse the arguments in the last few weeks. We should all know that when politics are perceived to fail, those who fill the vacuum cause despair.
“Northern Ireland faces deep political challenges ahead.”
She said that the future requires political leadership.
Justice Minister Ms Long said her thoughts are with the police officers who suffered what she said “could be life-changing injuries”.
“It is a mercy that no one has lost their life as a result of this appalling violence and I would appeal again for everyone with influence in our community to use it to end this,” she added.
“The scenes over the last week have been as depressing as they are disgraceful.”
Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the violence is dangerous and unacceptable.
“It is a miracle that, as we stand here today, no-one has been killed,” Ms O’Neill told MLAs.
She said illegal loyalist paramilitaries and criminal elements are influencing young people and orchestrating the violence.
“They stand back and send youngsters out to do their bidding,” she said.
“These people are no role models for our youth; they are outdated, they are antiquated and they are caught in a time warp which has no bearing on where the vast majority of people across this society now are or where they want to be.
“They are holding back their own people and they are holding back their own community.”
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said the riots were “completely unacceptable”.
“Organised criminal gangs bringing out children, young people and others to commit acts of destruction helps no-one and no cause,” he told the Assembly.
“The imagery this portrays of 21st century Northern Ireland into our second century is not something that anyone should want to see. This violence must stop before anyone is killed.
Earlier, the PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said 55 police officers have been injured across several nights of disorder in Northern Ireland.
On Wednesday night, trouble continued to rage on the streets of Belfast.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “The Executive will meet tomorrow morning to be briefed on the violence and street disorder which is causing huge distress in local communities at this time.
“Those involved in violence, criminal damage, manipulation of our young people and attacks on the police must stop.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin condemned the violence in a statement early this morning, writing; “I condemn the violence and attacks on the police that we have witnessed over the last number of days in The North.
“The only way forward is to address issues of concern through peaceful and democratic means. This evening’s attacks on a journalist and bus driver are deeply concerning and are in no one’s interests.
“Now is the time for the two Governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm.”
He added; “My Government has listened to and will continue to listen to and engage with the views of all communities in Northern Ireland. But the way to address genuine issues of concern is through peaceful and democratic means.”
Violent scenes including attacks on police, petrol bombings and rioting have taken place repeatedly on the streets of Belfast and Derry throughout the past week.
Wednesday night saw a bus hijacked and set on fire, a press photographer assaulted and clashes between loyalists and nationalists at peace line street that links the Shankill Road with the Springfield Road in west Belfast.
Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland that it is a time for political leaders to come together in the North, “instead of having a go at each other”.
“It is a time of real tension in Northern Ireland, unfortunately,” he said.
“Political leaders need to defuse tension and come together, instead of having a go at each other.
“To see an attempt, in particular, an attempt to incite a response, from the loyalist community into the nationalist community, that is indeed worrying.
“Over the last number of nights now, we have seen attacks on the PSNI, rioting involving young youths predominantly.
“This needs to stop before someone is killed or very seriously injured. We need to reduce and calm tensions, that needs to start at the top.
“Justice Minister Naomi Long speaks a lot of sense,” Minister Coveney continued.
“Unionists and unionist leaders are furious following an attendance at a funeral but, you know, there are processes that can be followed to look at decisions that have been made.
“That’s the way to do this – through good politics, through necessary investigations.
“The PSNI were deliberately attacked by young loyalist rioters. The driver of a bus was almost seriously injured, buses torched, petrol bombs flung over walls.
“These are scenes we haven’t seen in a very long times, scenes many people thought were consigned to history.”
Minister Coveney said it is “not helpful” for him to criticise First Minister Arlene Foster’s tweet; “We need to be working with the First Minister. All leaders have a responsibility to be careful. We need to create a sense of unity.”
The scenes of violence flooded social media and prompted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to appeal for calm.
He tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist.
“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”
The unrest has been attributed to tension in loyalist communities over the Northern Ireland Protocol on Brexit and the PSNI’s handling of alleged coronavirus regulation breaches by Sinn Fein at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attacks on Twitter, saying: “There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.”
“This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism.
“They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Fein. My thoughts are with the bus driver.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also condemned Wednesday night’s events, tweeting: “I utterly condemn the violent attacks on police, a journalist, and bus driver over recent days in The North.
“Now is the time for the two Governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm.”
Plans to recall the Assembly were already underway after Alliance Party leader Naomi Long secured the required support of 30 members to force a return.
Ms Long – who serves as Justice Minister – said it is her party’s intention to get all parties at Stormont to “unite around a call for calm and the cessation of violence”.
Some 41 police officers had been injured and 10 people arrested over the disturbances, prior to the events on Wednesday night.
Ms Long told RTÉ that she also wants to hear all elected representatives express confidence in policing structures and in the rule of law.
“Over the last number of weeks we have heard increasingly inflammatory public comments around policing in Northern Ireland, political comments that have been deeply and profoundly unsettling and we have then seen this spill over into violence on the streets,” she said.
“These situations and intentions of course then will be exploited by those in paramilitary organisations, so it is incumbent on all of us who are in leadership at a time like this to come together and to speak with one voice to say that this violence must stop and irrespective of our various political views, that we do not support it, that we do not want to see it continue but more than that, that we are absolutely committed to the rule of law and to fair and equitable policing across our society.”
The violence has been blamed on anger in response to a decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to pursue prosecutions against members of Sinn Fein who attended the funeral of Mr Storey last year despite restrictions over gatherings, as well as Brexit and localised issues in the south-east Antrim