Young people in loyalist communities have been rioting in Northern Ireland for the sixth consecutive day. The disruption began in Derry/Londonderry on the 30th of March and has since spread to loyalist communities in Belfast, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.
Unrest in loyalist areas has increased since the implementation of the Northern Irish protocol as part of the Brexit settlement in January. This involved installing increased customs checks at Northern Irish ports between the rest of the UK. Many loyalists saw this as a threat to Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.
Tensions were raised further after the Chief constable of the Police service of Northern Ireland, Simon Bryne did not charge those who attended the funeral of former IRA member Bobby Storey in June 2020 during heighted coronavirus restrictions.
There has also been concern over the influence paramilitary groups have had on young people who have taken part in the riots.
Over 50 police officers have been injured with individuals throwing petrol bombs, lighting pallets on fire and hijacking cars. 10 people have since been arrested, the youngest being 13.
Bus services in East Belfast were suspended on Wednesday night after a petrol bomb was thrown into a moving bus, thankfully no one was inside.
The Northern Irish executive met yesterday morning to discuss the increase in violence since the easter weekend and the worrying reports that more demonstrations are planned for later in the week.
The executive released a joint statement condemning the riots, “Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities.”
The statement released following the talks also spoke about the concern around the age of many of the rioters, “Those who would seek to use and abuse our children and young people to carry out these attacks have no place in our society.”
Despite releasing this joint statement, Sinn Fein members, along with SDLP and Alliance party members, have been critical of the DUP saying that they have fuelled community tensions via their criticism of Simon Bryne, the Chief police constable of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), due to his decision not to convict those who attended Bobby Storey’s funeral.
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou Mcdonald said in a statement, “Political leaders need to speak with one voice in condemning what is happening and in calling for planned loyalist protests – particularly at interface areas – to be cancelled immediately.”
First Minister, Arlene Foster defended the DUP’s response by saying, “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 Fein.”
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Mal McCann of the Irish Times