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Police attacked with petrol bombs at Easter commemoration

Youths fought a running battle with police during yesterday's dissident republican Easter commemoration in Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

Police say they will review video footage and "robustly pursue" those engaged in violence after officers came under attack during an illegal republican parade in Derry yesterday.

Dissident republicans threw petrol bombs and other missiles at police as they attempted to halt the display during the Easter Riisng 1916 commemoration parade in the Creggan.

Tensions were high after arrests during a similar unnotified parade in Lurgan over the weekend.

In an apparent attempt to stop police intervening, youths had stockpiled petrol bombs and other missiles. Before the parade started, youths could be seen carrying crates – and on one occasion a shopping trolley – full of petrol bombs close to the Creggan shops where the march was to start.

As the commemoration got under way, led by a 16-strong masked colour party, police closed off Central Drive with Land Rovers before warning that the parade was illegal and organisers or anyone taking part could be prosecuted.

The warning was met with a barrage of petrol bombs and other missiles from youths, many of whom were masked. Thereafter the marchers adopted a cat-and-mouse approach to the parade, advancing over a short distance before stopping as police were attacked.

At one stage it looked as though police intended to block the route as the march turned onto Iniscairn Road. However, following the most intense exchange of the afternoon police Land Rovers were again attacked with petrol bombs and other missiles before moving back.

As the colour party – accompanied by several hundred marchers – entered the city cemetery it was met by a flute band before proceeding to the republican monument and plot.

Wreaths were laid on behalf of the IRA, Saoradh and Éirigí as well as republican prisoners’ groups after which the main oration was delivered by former republican prisoner Stephen Murney. He accused police on both sides of the border of harassing republicans.

He said: “The entire republican community was enraged when we witnessed the vicious attack against a Republican Sinn Féin parade in Lurgan carried out by the RUC. The entire colour party was arrested and participants injured by Stormont’s military wing.

“We utterly condemn the actions of the crown forces and we send solidarity and support to Republican Sinn Féin along with all those arrested and injured.”

Chief Inspector Ivor Morton said organisers declined to enter discussions with police about the commemoration.

“The organisers also stated in the run-up to today’s event they were informed by police the parade would be stopped and would not be allowed to go ahead. This was patently untrue and can only be viewed as an attempt by those behind the parade as a bid to raise tensions in the area,” he said.

“It is therefore regrettable that in raising those tensions a small number of people saw fit to attack police officers with petrol bombs in what was clearly a pre-meditated attack.”

Mr Morton said approximately seven petrol bombs were thrown and some police vehicles were damaged although no-one was injured. No arrests were made.

“Police will review all video footage collected today and will robustly pursue all possible inquiries to identify those involved and bring them before the courts,” he said.

The violence was condemned by Sinn Fein’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill.

She said on Twitter: “Everyone has a right to remember their dead in a respectful and dignified way. Scenes from Derry today are very disturbing. Masked individuals, causing disturbance, youths throwing petrol bombs etc is far from dignified. Those responsible should be brought before the law.”

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said the scenes were “disgraceful”.

“People in paramilitary-style uniform is wrong and the continued glorification of terrorism is abhorrent,” he said.

“Nobody has a desire to see the violence on display today, except for barbaric thugs intent on endangering life and property.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the scenes were a “depressing reflection of our past and a possible insight to our future”. He urged police to take “robust retrospective action” against the organisers and those in paramilitary uniform.

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