• Fri. May 12th, 2023

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the scenes of disorder in west Belfast “deeply concerned” him.

Apr 8, 2021

image copyrightCharles McQuillan
image captionThe gates of one of Belfast’s so-called peace walls were prised open before being set alight
An emergency meeting of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive will take place on Thursday morning after a night of violence in west Belfast.
During several hours of rioting police officers were attacked, petrol bombs were thrown and a bus was burnt.
The Police Federation said seven officers were injured during the violence on both sides of an interface between loyalist and nationalist areas.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the scenes “deeply concerned” him.
media captionBelfast violence: Youths attack bus
The “involvement of proscribed organisations is likely” in the disorder, according to Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts.
He said several hundred people on each side were throwing petrol bombs in both directions in the loyalist Shankill Road and the nationalist Springfield Road.
Police officers were called in from other parts of Northern Ireland to help to deal with the violence.
Today is a chance for Stormont politicians to strike the right tone.
Words matter in politics, particularly in Northern Ireland right now where there are so many conflicting views and opinions that have led to an escalation of tensions.
The fact that executive ministers will meet on Thursday morning is a sign they recognise the escalation in disorder requires a united response.
But it is hard to know how they intend to manage this together when they have not been on the same page about why the violence has been happening.
It is hoped the assembly recall will present an opportunity to restore calm – privately some ministers say they fear now this has started it will be very difficult to stop.
The UK and Irish governments may seek to step up their efforts as well, given the calls for political leadership on all sides.
But with the political atmosphere so febrile, moving back from the brink could pose a real challenge.
All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland have criticised the disorder but they are divided over its causes.
It has been blamed on loyalist frustration about a decision not to prosecute people who attended the large-scale funeral of senior republican figure last summer, as well as concerns about the part of the Brexit deal directly relating to Northern Ireland.
On Thursday the Stormont assembly is being recalled for politicians to consider a motion calling for an “immediate and complete end” to violence in loyalist areas.
The motion brought by Alliance Party asks assembly members to unequivocally condemn those involved and support the rule of law.
image captionThe disorder at the Shankill and Springfield Road areas lasted for several hours
Leaders of the main political parties in Northern Ireland have condemned Wednesday night’s violence, as has Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheál Martin.
“Now is the time for the two governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm,” he wrote on social media.
Mr Johnson said: “The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”
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.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 7, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
In recent days 10 people have been arrested as a result of rioting by gangs of people, some as young as 13.
Unionist leaders have attributed the violence to the decision not to prosecute Sinn Féin members attending the funeral of republican Bobby Storey in June 2020.
image captionA bus was set on fire during the violence
It was attended by 2,000 mourners – including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin vice-president – at a time when Covid-19 restrictions were in place.
Unionist leaders have also linked the violence to simmering loyalist tensions over the Irish Sea border imposed as a result of the UK-EU Brexit deal.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Arlene Foster described the violence as “an embarrassment to Northern Ireland”.
image captionCars were hijacked and burnt at the gates of an interface area in west Belfast
“These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They… only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Féin,” she posted on social media.
But Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and the Alliance Party have accused unionist politicians of ramping up rhetoric by calling for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne to stand down over the police handling of Mr Storey’s funeral.
On Wednesday, Mrs Foster repeated her call for Mr Byrne to resign.
image captionPeople attacked police with petrol bombs and masonry during the disorder
She said she had a duty to speak out about the PSNI’s failure to uphold Covid-19 rules at a number of republican funerals over the past year.
The first minister said: “If I meet the chief constable I will simply repeat what I said to him last Tuesday… when I said he had lost the confidence of the unionist community and he should resign.”
On Thursday, DUP Junior Minister Gordon Lyons said his party was not refusing to meet the chief constable.
“A meeting hasn’t been requested by Arlene or the chief constable but if that meeting does take place she will of course be making it clear to him that there is remaining a lack of confidence there in the chief constable,” Mr Lyons said.
“We fully support the police and rule of law.”
Mark Lindsay, the chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said removing the chief constable “in the middle of a crisis” would not be helpful, although he said there were “serious issues that need to be addressed”.
“The police officers on the ground – to be honest it doesn’t have an awful lot of impact on them who their chief constable is – they take their direction from lower down the command chain,” he said.
“So it’s for politicians to decide and for the chief constable himself to decide.”
image captionForty-eight police officers have been hurt and 10 people arrested as a result of trouble in loyalist areas of several towns and cities
The assembly recall has the support of the five main Stormont parties and was proposed by Alliance Party leader and Justice Minister Naomi Long.
On Wednesday she said it was “not acceptable to make the police service a lightning rod for people’s anger”.
She said she hoped the motion would get the Stormont parties to “unite around a call for calm”.
It also calls for MLAs to “recognise that leadership comes with responsibility and recommits to upholding a culture of lawfulness in both actions and words”.
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