Northern Ireland news

PSNI say loyalist violence 'likely' to be orchestrated by paramilitaries

Chief Constable Simon Byrne held separate talks with Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald. Picture by Stephen Davison

POLICE believe loyalist paramilitaries are "likely" to have been behind recent street violence across Belfast and Co Antrim this week.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts was speaking after Wednesday night's disorder at Lanark Way in west Belfast.

The senior policeman's remarks came as First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald held separate talks with Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

Mrs Foster, who earlier in the week was adamant that she would not speaking to the chief constable, tweeted yesterday morning that she had spoken to Mr Byrne in the aftermath of the previous night's violence.

It was reported that Mrs Foster received a 10-minute briefing from Mr Byrne, alongside another party representative, after the DUP was contacted by the chief constable.

Mrs McDonald confirmed her discussions with the chief constable via Twitter as she called for the "orchestrated violence" to end.

"Those stoking up tensions at interfaces must be faced down," the Sinn Féin leader said.

"Those inflicting violence held to account. Above all citizens and communities must be protected. Politics leaders must speak with one voice."

File photo dated 15/06/20 of Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald. Ballots are due to be counted later in internal party contests which could determine the shape of the next Irish Government. PA Photo. Issue date: Friday June 26, 2020. The Republic has been without a ruling coalition since Februaryâ??s inconclusive general election. See PA story IRISH Government. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Speaking in the aftermath of Wednesday night's violence in Belfast, ACC Roberts said it was "clear there was a degree of organisation" of the violence, which saw his officers pelted with petrol bombs and missiles, including fireworks and heavy masonry.

He said two adults have been arrested following the incidents in Belfast and further arrests will be made in the coming days and weeks.

Sixty five police officers have been injured so far during 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.

Describing the rioting as "disgraceful", he encouraged political representatives, community representatives and parents to help restore calm.

"The scenes we saw were disgraceful in terms of the seriousness of criminal acts that were being carried out and the violent disorder.

"We also saw a bus being hijacked, it was an extremely distressing incident for the bus driver and the people on the bus at the time."

The assistant chief constable those involved could "expect to be arrested and remanded into custody and placed in the front of the courts".

"I can't confirm the involvement of paramilitaries but the orchestration of last night's disorder and the previous nights is the subject of investigation," he said.

"The scale of the disorder last night was at a scale that we have not seen in recent years in Belfast or further afield.

"The fact that it was sectarian violence involving large groups on both sides is not something we have seen in recent years. We believe there was a level of pre-planning."

Photo by Aaron McCracken.

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