Northern Ireland news

Young people being 'cynically used' by 'sinister elements of society' - Police Federation chairman

Rioting erupted in Carrickfergus on Monday night. Picture by Pacemaker

Young people are being “cynically used” by “more sinister elements of society” to cause disorder, according to the Police Federation for Northern Ireland chairman.

Mark Lindsay said a “perfect storm” had emerged linked to various issues, including the decision not to prosecute Sinn Féin members in relation to the funeral of Bobby Storey and problems over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Lindsay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are young people who are being cynically used by older, more sinister elements of society – more than likely aligned to what we would call paramilitary, but which in anywhere else are criminal organisations and large criminal gangs, and young people are often the cannon fodder they use to go onto the streets to attack police.”

Asked about First Minister Arlene Foster’s call for the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, Mr Lindsay said: “Everybody is concerned around the lack of confidence that political leaders have in the chief constable. I don’t think that’s a good or sustainable position.

“Our officers still require a chief constable and I think there needs to be some political will to actually either underpin or remove him.

“The proper mechanism for that is the policing board, of which all political parties are represented. So they hired him two years ago and it’s up to them then to make the decision around that. Certainly our members are very disturbed around the political use of commentary that says the chief constable should resign.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has blamed “malign and criminal elements” for whipping up young people involved in recent violence and disorder.

Yesterday Arlene Foster called for youths to desist from violence, adding that issues should be resolved at a political level.

It comes as the Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled for an emergency debate following days of violence and disorder in parts of Northern Ireland.

The DUP leader said she spoke to youth workers across Northern Ireland who said part of the issue is the closure of youth centres because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“I’ve asked the Executive to look at that urgently and to get those youth centres open immediately … so those youths can come off the streets and come away from some malign influences that are in our society,” Mrs Foster added.

“I certainly think in a particular area of Northern Ireland that there are malign and criminal elements who are whipping up some of our young people.

“I do absolutely accept that that is the case in a particular area of Northern Ireland, but South East Antrim UDA does not have rite in other parts of Northern Ireland, so there are concerns right across Northern Ireland.

“The rule of law is very important to me, individually and as party leader, and last week when it was very clear that the rule of law had been damaged because Sinn Fein presented themselves as above the law, a special status for their funeral whilst everybody else had to deal with the restrictions at particular points in time.

“I recognise that there is huge anger about that. But if the rule of law is to mean anything, it is that everybody is equal under the law and everybody has to be equally subject to the law.

“So I say to young people who are angry at this moment in time – do not get yourself a criminal record. It will blight your life for the rest of your life, you won’t be able to go on holiday where you please to go. So please, please, desist from the violence.

“There is a better way and the way is through politics.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long had called for MLAs to debate a motion condemning the recent attacks on police in loyalist areas.

The party secured the required support of 30 Assembly members for the Assembly to be recalled from Easter recess, with a sitting likely to take place on Thursday.

The move comes after police were attacked during another night of violence in a number of loyalist areas on Monday.

Nine officers were injured in Ballymena, taking to 41 the number injured in disorder across Northern Ireland since Friday night.

The most intense clashes on Monday were witnessed in Ballymena, when nine riot police officers were injured after they intervened in unlawful march of loyalists through the town.

During the unrest, debris, including a wheelie bin, was thrown onto the M2 motorway, forcing its closure.

Disorder also flared in parts of Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey and Londonderry on Monday, with petrol bombs and other missiles thrown at officers.

The violence comes amid soaring tensions within the loyalist community over post-Brexit trading arrangements, which have created new regulatory and customs barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Anger ramped up further last week following a 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.

However, non-unionist parties in Northern Ireland have accused unionist leaders of creating the febrile atmosphere and stoking up tensions.

Mrs Foster repeated her calls for Mr Byrne to resign, adding that she has no plans to meet with him.

“When I think of all those officers out facing the violence over this past few nights, I really feel for them, because their leadership team has left them down and let them burn really bad,” Mrs Foster added.

Commenting on the latest night of violence, Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Superintendent Davy Beck branded it “disgraceful”.

“Unfortunately as a result of what we saw last night, nine officers were injured during the disorder.

“These are officers who leave their homes, put on their uniform and deserve to get home safe and well to their families.

“I appeal to everyone with influence across the community to bring this senseless violence to a stop.

“We believe there are a number of groups, groups that are linked to criminality that are involved in orchestrating and promoting this violence.

“I would appeal to the community not to be sucked in by that and to put a stop to this.”

Children as young as 12 have been involved in some of the violence that has been witnessed in recent days.

Cars, a JCB digger, a phone box and bins were set alight in the Waterside area of Londonderry on Monday.

Police said that a brick was thrown at a taxi, which was carrying a passenger at the time, on the Limavady Road.

Meanwhile, a briefing session has been arranged for members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board to receive a report from the chief constable on the disorder and injuries to police officers.

Board chairman Doug Garrett said: “The violence that has manifested on our streets over recent days has been of serious concern right across the community and may also have significant consequences for those young people who have become involved in it.

“The number and extent of the injuries sustained by officers is shocking and the briefing arranged with the Chief Constable will provide an opportunity for board members to be updated on the latest position.”

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