Northern Ireland news

Naomi Long accuses politicians of 'fanning flames' after further loyalist violence

Rioting broke out in Carrickfergus on Monday night. Picture by Pacemaker

ALLIANCE leader Naomi Long has accused unionist politicians of helping to "fan the flames" after another night of loyalist violence.

A crowd attacked police in Carrickfergus and there were further disturbances in Newtownabbey, while nine police were injured in rioting at an illegal parade in Ballymena on Monday night.

An 18-year-old man was arrested in Carrick on suspicion of possessing articles for use with petrol bombs. He remained in custody yesterday.

A total of 41 PSNI officers have been hurt in riots in areas including Belfast, Newtownabbey, Ballymena and Derry since Good Friday.

The assembly is to be recalled tomorrow to debate the violence after a petition submitted by Alliance yesterday afternoon secured the 30 signatures needed.

DUP leader Arlene Foster condemned the riots but rejected suggestions unionist politicians had used inflammatory rhetoric.

The first minister said it was as if "young people do not have the ability to think for themselves".

"Seriously, do we not think that people have a brain to think for themselves? They do of course."

Mrs Foster also reiterated her call for Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign over the policing of the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in June last year.

She said she would not meet Mr Byrne, adding "I think the Chief Constable needs to resign, and I think he needs to resign very quickly".

Mrs Long, the justice minister, said events surrounding the Storey funeral, and unionists' criticism of the decision not to prosecute anyone over the funeral, had exposed a "lack of respect" for the rule of law.

"I think the lack of respect for the law being shown by political representatives both in their actions around Bobby Storey's funeral, but also in their words in terms of how they have responded in terms of the outworking of that process, have helped to fan the flames," she told BBC's Talkback programme.

She said strong criticism of the PSNI had contributed to the violence.

"I think when you criticise as forcefully and recklessly, in some cases, as some have. When you accuse them [the PSNI] of two tier make them a lightning conductor for people’s anger," she said.

The leaders of Stormont's unionist parties have called for the chief constable's resignation over the policing of the Storey funeral.

Mrs Long said: "It isn’t, frankly, for leaders of unionism to say there is no confidence in policing in the unionist community.

"That in itself triggers a lack of confidence. It is up to them to use due process where they have concerns for those actions.

"I think it is an incredibly serious thing for politicians to call on the chief constable to resign.

"I think that is an incredibly serious thing to do at a time when our policing is meant to be separate from our politics and for good reason. I think those who cross that line...trigger events that are often beyond their control."

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said there had been a "huge amount of anger and concern" because unionists feel that Sinn Féin members were being treated differently than everyone else over the Storey funeral.

"It's quite clear from the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) report (into the Storey funeral), in my view, that the police have acted completely inappropriately," he said.

"I think in doing that they have added fuel to the fire, especially in loyalist communities...It seems like there's one rule for Sinn Féin and another for everybody else."

PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson said police needed to "take responsibility" for the handling of the Storey funeral.

"Whether we like it or not, people will point to what happened on the day of the Bobby Storey funeral," he said.

"We need to make sure that we are in some way influencing people to protest in a very peaceful way. We need to be in there talking. I want young loyalists to grow up in a society where they can make their decisions in a political process."

Following a meeting with Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation Northern Ireland, yesterday, Shadow Secretary of State Louise Haigh MP said said the violence is "unjustified and unjustifiable".

"The concerns and frustrations that communities are feeling must be addressed through dialogue and constitutional politics alone," she said.

"Violence only serves to undermine the legitimate concerns many have.

"A clear message must be sent that there is simply no excuse for violence or assaulting frontline officers."

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