Loyalist agitation needs measured response

The growing indications that loyalist groups are planning to resume their street protests from tonight, after the weekend funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, need to be met with a measured but firm response by the authorities.

Although it would be an act of enormous cynicism if those who claimed to have been honouring the Duke’s memory then decided to organise a series of provocative and unauthorised parades, social media statements suggest that is precisely their intention.

At least four marches are due to take place in the north Down area this evening, according to the announcements, and it is believed that others could follow elsewhere in an attempt to stretch police resources.

The previous round of loyalist agitation led to prolonged violence for over a week, involving injuries to almost 100 police officers, the widespread destruction of property and highly dangerous sectarian clashes along the Belfast peacelines.

We stand over our editorial on this day last week which said it was essential for the rioters, whether they were from a loyalist or a nationalist background, to be swiftly brought before the courts and if duly convicted face custodial sentences.

The prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson, who declared on Twitter this meant The Irish News was `basically calling for internment', might consider researching the difference between supporting the fair application of the judicial process and advocating its suspension in favour of detention without trial, a policy which has proved disastrous in the past.

While many reasons have been put forward to explain the volatile mood in loyalism, including the serious errors of judgment surrounding the Bobby Storey funeral last year, none of them remotely justify attacking police officers. There are also pressing issues over deprivation and poverty, but, as the official figures clearly demonstrate, they are present on both sides of the sectarian divide.

If some loyalists have somehow managed to convince themselves that the Irish Sea border was not an inevitable outcome of the Brexit fiasco, particularly after the DUP's astonishing decision to place its trust in Boris Johnson, then they are fully entitled to argue their case by constitutional means.

What they are not entitled to do, as taoiseach Micheál Martin warned yesterday, is stage confrontations at a time of significant tension for all sections of the community, and it is reasonable to expect that those who are found guilty of related offences will face the full legal consequences.