Leading article

Bonfire anarchy cannot be repeated

What must be said with certainty is that the appalling scenes witnessed in the New Lodge in recent days and weeks must not be repeated next year when the internment anniversary comes around again.

We have seen rioting, attacks on police, threatening graffiti and anti-social behaviour in the lead up to the anniversary as young people defy the wishes of local residents and community representatives to build a bonfire close to two blocks of flats in the densely populated area.

On Thursday morning, around 150 police officers moved in to protect contractors tasked with removing the bonfire pallets but were thwarted by the presence of two youths who refused to come down from the structure.

Three officers were injured during trouble at the scene and the PSNI eventually made the decision to withdraw.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said he had to weigh the risks of continuing an operation to remove a bonfire with the risks that operation would pose to others present.

He did say that a significant number of women and children in the crowd were being used as human shields while older people linked to dissident republican groupings were manipulating the young people involved in violence.

All this is deeply disturbing and it is indeed regrettable that police felt they could not stay at the scene although they were plainly in a difficult position.

However, what happened later was even more alarming as we witnessed complete lawlessness involving shocking brutality.

Footage posted on social media showed wanton displays of violence with people being stabbed and beaten in horrifying attacks.

In one attack, a man can be seen brandishing a knife in a large crowd of people.

An 18-year-old man is in a critical condition in hospital after being stabbed in the back while a 39-year-old man suffered wounds to his arm and hip.

Two arrests have been made but questions remain about the police decision to leave the scene and the criminality that took place in the ensuing period.

There cannot be a perception that the area has been abandoned to the young thugs intent on anarchy.

It is abundantly clear that trying to deal with such a challenging and dangerous situation at a late stage is far from ideal.

Work must begin now to prevent a bonfire ever again causing complete mayhem in this part of north Belfast.

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