UK Minister visits Belfast for talks as crisis in Northern Ireland grows | North Ireland
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis traveled to Belfast for emergency talks to calm tensions as police revealed around 600 people were involved in the unrest on Wednesday, in what they described it as a scale of violence unheard of in decades.
With parts of Belfast scarred and in the midst of a growing political crisis, the Northern Ireland assembly united in its condemnation of a seventh night of riots – including the petrol bombing of a bus – and approved a motion calling for an end to violence and support for the rule of law.
Lewis was to hold virtual meetings with the leaders of the five parties in Northern Ireland’s executive, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party.
Northern Ireland was plunged into crisis after violence escalated at the intersection between loyalist and nationalist communities in the Shankill and Springfield areas, with a gasoline bombing of a driver in bus that avoided demonstrations and missiles launched over a “wall of peace”.
Police said rioters threw petrol bombs, bottles, masonry and fireworks, and a Belfast Telegraph photographer was attacked. Police fired six plastic bullets known as Energy Mitigating Projectiles, or AEPs, on Wednesday evening. Eight police officers were injured in the unrest and two men aged 28 and 18 were arrested on suspicion of rioting behavior.
Signs of easing tensions emerged on Thursday as the Ulster Policy Research Group, which is linked to the Ulster Paramilitary Defense Association, called for an end to the violence, saying “the unrest from the streets will not solve our problems ”. The Council of Loyalist Communities, which represents loyalist paramilitary groups, reportedly met on Thursday afternoon but failed to reach agreement on a statement condemning the violence.
Sources said a meeting of party leaders, including the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Alliance and the SDLP, could take place on Friday morning.
Lewis said: “I will be meeting with community, religious and political leaders. Following an engagement earlier today, I welcome the executive’s statement and join them in calling for calm. I will do my best to continue to facilitate further constructive discussions on the way forward over the next few days. I remain in close contact with the Prime Minister to keep him informed.
The meetings follow an emergency session of the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive to discuss the ongoing violence.
Simon Byrne, the Police Chief of the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI), briefed party leaders on the security situation on Thursday ahead of the debate. Arlene Foster, the premier and leader of the DUP, spoke to Byrne, marking a sharp turnaround in her refusal to meet with him earlier this week despite escalating violence.
The DUP demanded the resignation of the police chief for the Republican funeral police, but Foster did not repeat this request in a tweet after the meeting. She condemned the violence as unjustified and unjustifiable. “Those responsible must be subject to the full rigor of the law,” she said.
Northern Ireland’s Shadow Secretary Louise Haigh has accused Boris Johnson of being responsible for a loss of confidence in the loyalist community, citing his statements on Brexit ahead of the 2019 general election.
“It is the great misfortune of Northern Ireland that the person with shared responsibility for safeguarding the agreement placed so little value on his words and showed so little consideration for the consequences of his decisions. .
“Making a pledge like he did when he stood up in Northern Ireland and swore the trade union community never to impose a maritime border, and then a few months later doing just that, showed a profound lack of integrity, ”she said. said.
Loyalists are reportedly planning more protests this weekend, a prospect that will alarm the British and Irish governments.
Police officers were injured on Wednesday evening when masked youth from the loyalist Shankill Road area threw gasoline bombs and stones and sent an empty and burnt bus onto the street. Kevin Scott, a Belfast Telegraph photographer, was assaulted and his camera smashed.
Youth from the adjacent Nationalist Road of Springfield Road launched missiles at a “peace wall” on the loyalist side, triggering a shootout in response. The crowds skirmished when one of the doors in the wall was prayed to be opened and set on fire.
“Calm is needed on both sides of the gates before watching a tragedy. These are scenes that we hoped to be confined to history ”, the Police Federation tweeted.
At least 55 police officers were injured over the seven nights of unrest, with difficulty switching between Belfast, Derry, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.
Loyalists’ anger at the police, perceived nationalist ancestry and the consequences of Brexit, as well as criminal gang activity, fueled the riots. It is one of the worst riots since the flag protests of 2013, and comes as Northern Ireland prepares to mark the centenary of its founding dating from the 1921 partition of Ireland.
Unionist parties have been accused of tacitly encouraging unrest by demanding the resignation of the police chief for the force’s alleged favoritism towards Sinn Féin during the police republican funeral, including that of Bobby Storey, who attracted around 2,000 people, including leaders of Sinn Féin last June. during lockout restrictions.
Critics accused the DUP of stoking controversy to deflect anger among loyalists over the party’s role in creating a trade border in the Irish Sea. Justice Minister Naomi Long of the Alliance Party said ‘dishonesty’ over Brexit had fueled resentment.
Young people interviewed at protests in Newtownabbey and Shankill Road on Thursday cited the maritime border, alleged police bias and the feeling that Protestants had become second-class citizens as reasons for carrying stones and bottles. In some cases, older men appeared to lead them, but it is not known whether the main paramilitary groups were involved.
The Irish and UK governments have expressed deep concern over the attacks on the police, the bus driver and the photographer. “The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not through violence or crime”, Boris Johnson tweeted.
Some in Westminster have urged the Prime Minister to visit Northern Ireland. Haigh said Johnson must step up to protect a “fragile” peace process.
“This moment requires leadership,” she said. “The Prime Minister must call inter-party talks in Northern Ireland and engage with the co-keepers of the Belfast / Good Friday deal, the Irish government to find solutions and resolve tensions.”
Simon Coveney, Irish Foreign Minister, said political leaders must come together to ease tensions. “It must stop before anyone is killed or seriously injured,” he said. said RTÉ. “These are scenes that we haven’t seen in Northern Ireland for a very long time, these are scenes that a lot of people thought relegated to history and I think it takes a collective effort to try and defuse the tensions. . “