Serious disorder at a Belfast interface with a Translink bus petrol bombed and a press photographer assaulted
There was serious disorder at a Belfast interface last night with a Translink bus petrol bombed and a press photographer assaulted.
The attack on the bus was described as "attempted murder" by First Minister Arlene Foster.
Stones and bottles were thrown across the peace line as rival gangs gathered at both sides of the interface.
The trouble flared after loyalists congregated at Lanark Way in the early evening to protest against the Irish sea border.
The Irish News understands that police fear serious disorder at a series of planned loyalist parades and protests on Friday evening and Saturday.
After a hastily-called 'special meeting' this morning, the Executive condemned the violence and called for calm to be restored.
Ministers were updated on the situation over the last few days by the Chief Constable and issued the following statement:
"We are gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets over the last week, including those at the Lanark Way interface last night. Attacks on police officers, public services and communities are deplorable and they must stop.
"Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities.
"Those who would seek to use and abuse our children and young people to carry out these attacks have no place in our society.
"While our political positions are very different on many issues, we are all united in our support for law and order and we collectively state our support for policing and for the police officers who have been putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others.
"We, and our departments, will continue to work together to maximise the support we can give to communities and the PSNI to prevent further violence and unrest.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is "deeply concerned" about scenes of violence.
He said: "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 condemned the events. He wrote: “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.”
In an evening of violence:
- Bins were set on fire and the road blocked on the Shankill side after police closed the peace gate separating loyalists from the nationalist Springfield Road.
- A video appeared to show adults cheering on a gang of masked loyalist youths advancing towards the peace gate.
- Another video showed a Translink bus being hijacked at the junction of the Shankill Road and Lanark Way. In it a masked man throws a petrol bomb in the front door towards the driver's position while the bus is still moving. The driver of the hijacked bus "was shaken but not injured."
- A large group of nationalists gathered on the Springfield Road side with stones and bottles thrown across the peace line. Senior republicans were said to have been in the area.
- A video appeared to show nationalists youths goading loyalists by shouting across the peaceline about the Shankill Bomb which killed nine innocent civilians in 1993.
- There were also clashes nearby at the junction of the West Circular Road and Springfield Road.
- In another part of north Befast, PSNI Land Rovers were attacked at North Queen's Street and tyres set on fire in nearby Henry Place.
- Earlier a Belfast Telegraph photographer was assaulted and abused with a sectarian slur. Kevin Scott said he was jumped by two men on Cupar War, his cameras were smashed and he was told "to f**k off back to your own area you fenian c**t."
- By 9pm one set of peaceline gates have been broken open with hundreds in the area.
Earlier this morning, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said multiple petrol bombs and missiles, including fireworks and heavy masonry, were thrown and it is “clear there was a degree of organisation” of the violence.
“We saw young people participating in serious disorder and committing serious criminal offences, and they were supported and encouraged, and the actions were orchestrated by adults at certain times,” he said.
“It’s early to indicate whether or not any proscribed organisations were involved but it is our assessment that is a likely situation.
“We have seen scenes last night of a new generation of young people who have been exposed to scenes that I’m sure we all thought were in generations gone by, and I would encourage anybody in a position of leadership – political representatives, community representatives, parents – take an interest in what young people are doing and to have a united message to prevent further scenes like we witnessed last night.”
Mr Roberts said two adults have been arrested following the incidents in Belfast and further arrests will be made in the coming days and weeks.
Shocking scenes of violence in Belfast tonight as a bus is petrol-bombed at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road with a device fired at the driver: pic.twitter.com/RPDQHbX0eu— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) April 7, 2021
Trouble flares tonight on both sides of the Lanark Way ‘peace line’ in Belfast. Shankill Road area: 1/2 pic.twitter.com/M1d7T9tAIf— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) April 7, 2021
Shocking scenes which could set our society back years. Thinking of our brave @PoliceServiceNI colleagues dealing with this disorder in Belfast tonight and those law abiding citizens caught up in this needless violence. @niexecutive @NIPolicingBoard @NIOgov pic.twitter.com/9s5JHusXAT— Police Federation for Northern Ireland (@PoliceFedforNI) April 7, 2021
The arrival of a line of police landrovers has interrupted the attacks over the peacewall. A few bottles being thrown at police but things a bit calmer now. pic.twitter.com/mkQOdXG6v6— Emma Vardy (@EmmaVardyTV) April 7, 2021
The scene tonight on the nationalist Springfield Road area of Belfast at the Lanark Way interface. pic.twitter.com/q4vTW0zsQ1— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) April 7, 2021
Things are now quiet at the Lanark way interface in West Belfast after loyalist youths hijacked and burned a number of cars. pic.twitter.com/c0s0Ja8WkG— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) April 7, 2021
Last night's trouble follows a series of incidents across the north since last Friday.
First Minister Arlene Foster described the attack on the bus as "attempted murder"
"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 Féin. My thoughts are with the bus driver," she said on Twitter.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill tweeted: "The Executive will meet tomorrow morning to be briefed on the violence & street disorder causing huge distress in local communities at this time. Those involved in violence, criminal damage, manipulation of our young people & attacks on the police must stop".
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey condemned the attack on Mr Scott as "disgraceful."
"This is utterly unacceptable and is not only an attack on an individual, but the freedom of the press, which is the cornerstone of any democracy."
Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister said the violence in Northern Ireland needs to stop before someone is killed.
Simon Coveney described Wednesday night’s scenes in Belfast as “shocking”.
“The day after tomorrow we are recognising 23 years of one of the most resilient peace processes anywhere in the world,” he told RTE Morning Ireland.
“This is a time of real tension in Northern Ireland, unfortunately, that political leaders and community leaders need to respond to, like they have done in the past, to defuse tensions and come together rather than have a go at each other.
“We face really difficult challenges at the moment for all sorts of reasons. The Irish Government will do their part.
“To see attempts to incite a response at an interface area to try to spread the violence beyond the loyalist community into the nationalist community is worrying.
“This needs to stop before someone is killed or very seriously injured. A lot of people have responsibilities to try to work to defuse tensions and that needs to start at the top, at a political level.”
SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon appealed for clam.
“Those attacking their own communities and their own public services are achieving nothing and if this doesn't stop now it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed."
The older men of the Loyalist Communities Council and those within loyalism heavily funded and awarded the patronage of the NIO and Irish Government have clearly lost whatever influence they may have once had, the policy of appeasement has failed dramatically— Allison Morris (@AllisonMorris1) April 8, 2021
This is where we are at. The Chief Constable having to use social media to heavily hint at the First Minister it would be a good idea if she would speak to him. This place is wild. https://t.co/nepEleLimx— Amanda Ferguson (@AmandaFBelfast) April 7, 2021