Thirty-two PSNI officers hurt during weekend of unrest
At least 32 officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have been injured while dealing with further outbreaks of violence over the Easter weekend.
A car was set alight in Sperrin Park in the Waterside area of Londonderry, while there were also reports of violent incidents in Carrickfergus, near Belfast on Monday night (April 5).
Both locations have been the scene of violence and unrest among the loyalist communities in recent days. Former DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly, now a special adviser to First Minister Arlene Foster, urged those involved in the incidents in Carrickfergus to stop.
She tweeted: “Emotions can run high and frustrations deep, but injury, arrest and prosecution will blight your life forever. We believe in the rule of law, break it and there are rightful consequences. Get home, be safe and make your genuine concerns heard in democratic and non-violent ways.”
In Carrickfergus, a crowd of young people gathered in the North Road area and lit a fire in the middle of the road. Petrol bombs were sporadically thrown at police, according to witnesses.
A gang of around 20 youths were spotted at the site of an enflamed car in Sperrin Park.
Earlier, the PSNI had appealed to community leaders to put a stop to the disorder that has taken place throughout much of the last week.
Throughout Monday afternoon, masked loyalist bands marched through the streets in towns across the region, including Portadown, Ballymena and Markethill. The PSNI is investigating those marches, which appear not to have been notified to the Parades Commission.
It follows a turbulent week of events in Northern Ireland, as loyalist tensions simmered over into violence.
Five police officers sustained injuries after being pelted with petrol bombs and masonry in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus, near Belfast, on Sunday night. It brings the total number of police injured in incidents in Londonderry and Belfast over the Easter weekend to 32.
Petrol bombs were thrown at PSNI officers and bins and pallets set on fire in disturbing scenes in Belfast and Derry in recent days.
Speaking earlier on Monday, PSNI Chief Superintendent Davy Beck said police stand ready for another night of unrest, but urged community leaders to put a stop to it. He said: “Right now as we speak, my officers are in those areas, they’re working hard to provide those police services. Be that in respect of crime, be that in terms of road safety, be that in terms of others concerns in the community.
“We’re there and we’re doing that. I will have additional resources available to me and we will respond to whatever may develop. But there’s an opportunity to stop this. This doesn’t have to be a third night of trouble in the Cloughfern and Newtownabbey/Carrickfergus area. I would encourage people with influence in those communities to put a stop to this.”
Chief Supt Davy said the attacks were “clearly orchestrated”.
He added: “I believe that there’s a small group of disaffected criminal elements that are clearly involved in influencing young people, and I would appeal to young people in those areas not to allow this to happen. I think it’s also fair to say that there’s probably no coincidence to this. We have been successful in that area in respect on some of these criminal gangs. So I think that this perhaps has been a reaction from some of those people who are involved in criminality.”
Asked if he thought the South East Antrim UDA were behind the attacks, he replied: “As I said, I believe that this is a group of disaffected criminal gangs and we will investigate that.
“We will review all our footage. We will review all the information coming in, in terms of who has been involved.”
Chief Supt Davy said the PSNI will be engaging with the local community, councillors and representatives “to try and put a stop to this.”
On Monday night, a masked loyalist band marched through the streets of Portadown, playing drums and flutes and waving flags.
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd condemned the march, which he said was intended to intimidate the local community. He said: “Tonight’s so-called band parade in Portadown was led by masked men through the streets, reminiscent of the scenes recently in Pitt Park in East Belfast when a loyalist mob went on a rampage to intimidate families out of their homes.
“Irresponsible and dangerous sabre rattling and reckless rhetoric from Unionist politicians has seen tensions rise right across the community.”
Similar marches took place in Markethill and Ballymena throughout the day. It raises questions as to whether these events were notified to the Parades Commission, as is required by law.
Children as young as 12 have been involved in some of the incidents that have taken place over the weekend, police said.
Chief Supt Davy said: “What concerns me most are the young people who are being suckered in to this type of behaviour. So again I would appeal to parents to think about where their young people are, think about who they’re with. And try and have a conversation with them and encourage them not to get involved, not to get sucked in and not to be used in this way. Because effectively, that’s what’s happening. They’re being used by other elements within the community.”
Earlier on Monday, the PSNI condemned what it called “senseless and reckless criminal behaviour” in Derry the previous day.
Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said: “Again we saw our officers targeted, pelted with petrol bombs and masonry in the Dungiven Road area, where pallets were placed on the road and set alight. This saw the main road closed for a time, causing disruption for local drivers. Thankfully, last night none of our officers were injured as they worked to bring the disorder to an end.
“I will reiterate our disappointment that we had another night of senseless and reckless criminal behaviour that achieves nothing but cause damage to the community.”
Tensions have soared within the loyalist community in recent months over post-Brexit trading arrangements, which it is claimed have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Anger ramped up further last week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.
All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.
Meanwhile in Co Antrim, a recent series of drug seizures against the South East Antrim UDA – a renegade faction of the main grouping – have caused particular ill-feeling towards police.
The faction is believed to have been behind the disturbances in Newtownabbey on Saturday.
Chief Supt Davy urged those with issues around policing to go through the proper channels and not to take to the streets.
He said: “There’s no justification for taking these actions out on the street. If you have concerns about policing, you can take those to local PCSP (Policing and Community Safety Partnership), you can take them to the Policing Board, you can take them to the Police Ombudsman.
“There are mechanisms to deal with these issues. It doesn’t have to be on the street. It doesn’t have to affect the rest of your life. Please stop.”