Northern Ireland news

27 police officers injured in Northern Ireland unrest

 Rioters clash with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. Picture date: Friday April 2, 2021.
Michelle Devane, PA

A total of 27 police officers have been injured in unrest in Northern Ireland as political leaders call for calm over the Easter weekend.

The PSNI said 15 officers were injured in Belfast and 12 officers were hurt in Derry during riots in both cities on Friday evening.

Eight people have been arrested.

Derry City and Strabane Area Commander Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said police received reports on Friday night of youths gathering in the areas of Nelson Drive and Tullyally in the city.

“On their arrival, they came under sustained attack from a large group of youths and young adults throwing masonry, bottles, petrol bombs and fireworks,” he said.

“As a result 12 officers sustained injuries including head, leg and foot wounds.”

Mr Jones also said a care home was damaged in the Nelson Drive area during the trouble causing “untold fear and distress” to residents.

He said it was “totally unacceptable” that Friday was the fifth successive night of disturbances in the unionist Waterside area of the city.

“It is vital that we all send out a message to those responsible that such behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.

“The people of Derry/Londonderry deserve to feel safe within their own homes and be able to walk the streets without fear.

 Rioters clash with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. Picture date: Friday April 2, 2021.

“I would ask that anyone who has any influence in communities – whether parents, guardians, community or elected representatives – please, use that influence to ensure young people do not get caught up in criminality and that they are kept safe and away from harm.”

In Belfast, two boys, aged 13 and 14, are among eight people arrested in connection with riots in a loyalist area of Belfast.

Police said 15 officers were injured on Friday night after being targeted by a crowd of mainly young people in Sandy Row, throwing stones, fireworks, flares, manhole covers and petrol bombs.

 Rioters clash with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. Picture date: Friday April 2, 2021.

Belfast District Commander, Chief Superintendent Simon Walls, said “a small local protest quickly developed into an attack on police officers” and that at points there were up to 300 people of all ages on the streets.

He called for calm, urging anyone with influence in the loyalist community to dissuade young people from causing violence and harm.

He said: “I’m not going to enter into dialogue about political commentary.

“What I would ask is that people with influence, people in local communities, would dissuade young people, or anyone else, intent on causing violence or intent on harming police officers.”

He described it as a “real tragedy” that children as young as 13 and 14 were among those arrested.

“I think it’s a tragedy that any child in Northern Ireland is sitting in a custody suite this morning and facing criminal investigation, possibility of being charged and possibility of facing a criminal conviction,” he said.

“It shouldn’t happen. And that’s why I’m very keen that people with influence try to ask anyone intent on violence to please step back. It’s not the way to resolve tensions or arguments.”

Political leaders have also called for calm over the Easter weekend following the riots.

Stormont’s First Minister Arlene Foster urged young people “not to get drawn into disorder”, saying violence “will not make things better”.

The DUP leader said: “I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better.

“And I send my strong support to all of the rank-and-file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend.

“I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives.

“I also ask parents to play their part and be proactive in protecting their young adults.”

 Rioters clash with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. Picture date: Friday April 2, 2021.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the unrest as “completely unacceptable”.

Mr Lewis said: “Violence is never the answer. There is no place for it in society.

“It is unwanted, unwarranted and I fully support the PSNI appeal for calm.”

He added that his thoughts were with the officers injured.

The disorder has flared amid ongoing tensions within loyalism across Northern Ireland.

Loyalists and unionists are angry about post-Brexit trading arrangements which they claim have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Tensions ramped up further this week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.

All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.

 PSNI Belfast District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls speaks to the media at police headquarters in Belfast. Picture date: Saturday April 3, 2021.

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