Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin fear vote loss in wake of New Lodge unrest

A policeman lies injured after unrest broke out ahead of an anti-internment bonfire in the New Lodge area of North Belfast. Picture by Matt Bohill.
Paul Ainsworth

Sinn Féin is mobilising activists to "reclaim" the New Lodge area of north Belfast following last week's violence linked to a controversial bonfire, amid fears the incidents could cost the party votes.

An internal message has been circulated among members in the city urging them to act in the wake of unrest which saw an 18-year-old stabbed and left in a critical condition when fighting broke out close to the bonfire site at Victoria Parade last Thursday. Two men have since appeared in court charged in connection to the stabbing which left the victim with a collapsed lung, and have been remanded in custody after being denied bail.

Three PSNI officers were also injured after coming under attack from a crowd hurling missiles in the hours before the bonfire was lit.

A youth climbs on the bonfire built at Victoria Parade.

Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams paid a visit to the New Lodge on Saturday, where he condemned the "thuggery and hooliganism" that erupted when Thursday's anti-internment bonfire went ahead following a stand off between bonfire builders and the PSNI. Officers had attempted to assist contractors hired by the Housing Executive to remove the bonfire material, but withdrew from the area after two youths who stood atop the pyre refused to move.

Speaking at New Lodge Youth Club, the former West Belfast MP vowed that young people in the area would not be "abandoned", and accused an element in the area of "exploiting" them.

Following his visit, Sinn Féin activists have been urged to pitch in and promote a vigil at the site of the "anti-community bonfire" this evening at 7pm.

Footage shows trouble erupting among a crowd as the controversial bonfire was lit last Thursday.

An internal message seen by the Irish News called for members to organise and carry out a leaflet drop in the area inviting locals to attend the event, where party spokespeople will join them to condemn the trouble. Up to 3,000 leaflets are understood to have been distributed throughout the area at the weekend ahead of the vigil, described as an event "designed to build back their confidence and Reclaim our Streets".

The missive states: "It will be good for the residents to have your support."

It continued: "We need to be seen being proactive in this case, if not, it could cost us votes."

No-one from Sinn Féin was available for a comment.

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