Northern Ireland news

55 police officers injured during week of disorder in Northern Ireland

 PSNI officers and Land Rovers on the nationalist side of the Springfield Road in Belfast after dispersing people from the area, following further unrest. Picture date: Wednesday April 7, 2021.
David Young and James Ward, PA

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said a total of 55 police officers have been injured across several nights of disorder in Northern Ireland.

He said several hundred people gathered on each side of the peace wall gate at Lanark Way in west Belfast from around 5pm yesterday, which escalated to “significant disorder where crowds from both sides of the gate were committing serious criminal offences, both attacking police and attacking each other”.

Mr Roberts said multiple petrol bombs and missiles, including fireworks and heavy masonry, were thrown.

“This has to be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

“Over the last six nights, we now have 55 police officers injured as a result of disorder across the country. That has an impact on those officers personally and on their families … but it also has an impact on communities who don’t have those police officers available then to provide the service we want to provide.”

Ministers in the Stormont Executive have been urged to speak with a united voice in condemning rioting that has erupted in Northern Ireland.

The call from the Police Federation, the body that represents rank and file officers, came ahead of a meeting of the powersharing administration to discuss the escalating public order situation in the region.

The Stormont Assembly is also being recalled from Easter recess for an emergency sitting today to debate the violence, which has mostly flared in loyalist areas.

The federation said at least another seven officers were injured in last night’s violence in Belfast.

The violence is unfolding at a time of increasing rancour in the political sphere amid tensions over Brexit’s Irish Sea trade border and the fallout from the police’s handling of a mass republican funeral that took place during pandemic restrictions last year.

 Cars that people on the loyalist side tried to drive through the Peace Gates in Lanark Way, Belfast during further unrest in Belfast. Picture date: Wednesday April 7, 2021.

As rioting has flared across Northern Ireland, all four main unionist parties continue to call for PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to quit over how his service dealt with the funeral of former IRA leader Bobby Storey last year.

Unionists are furious at a decision by prosecutors not to take action against 24 Sinn Fein politicians, including deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, for attending the funeral – a decision partly related to the fact police engaged with the organisers before an event that drew 2,000 people on to the streets.

Mr Byrne has vowed not to resign and has signalled a desire to engage with people who have concerns about policing in the region.

Police Federation chair Mark Lindsay expressed concern that the row over Mr Byrne’s future was playing out at such a turbulent time.

“I think the Executive need to stand together and need to make very, very firm statements around where they stand in the support in law and order,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“They cannot differentiate between supporting the Chief Constable and supporting officers on the ground.

“Policing needs leadership, it needs a Chief Constable, and really in the middle of a crisis this isn’t terribly helpful.

“We all have to work with our Chief Constable, we do need a Chief Constable. I don’t think removing him at this stage would be terribly helpful.”

Mr Lindsay said Wednesday’s violence was “disturbing” and escalated a “couple of notches” from the disorder witnessed over previous days.

“The latest information I have is that there were seven more injured last night and that’s only officers whose injuries were reported at the time and that includes injuries to lower limbs and some concussion,” he said.

“Obviously my thoughts are with them this morning, but we’re probably going to see some more injuries documented as the day goes on.”

Wednesday night saw a bus hijacked and set on fire, a press photographer assaulted and clashes between loyalists and nationalists at a peace line street that links the Shankill Road with the Springfield Road in west Belfast.

The scenes of violence flooded social media and prompted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to appeal for calm.

He tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist.

“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also condemned Wednesday night’s events, tweeting: “I utterly condemn the violent attacks on police, a journalist, and bus driver over recent days in The North.

“Now is the time for the two Governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm.”

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attacks on Twitter last night, saying: “There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.

“This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism.

“They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Fein. My thoughts are with the bus driver.”

Her suggestion that Sinn Fein were the “real law breakers” in a tweet about the hijack and destruction of a bus during rioting has been met with condemnation from political rivals.

Alliance Party Justice Minister Naomi Long tabled the motion requesting the recall of the Assembly.

She said her party’s intention was to get all parties at Stormont to “unite around a call for calm and the cessation of violence”.

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