Violence has again resumed on the streets of Belfast ahead of an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly, with a bus hijacked and set on fire and a photographer attacked.
The scenes on Wednesday evening followed several nights of unrest in loyalist communities amid tensions over the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol in the UK and EU’s Brexit deal and the police’s handling of alleged lockdown breaches by Sinn Fein at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.
A decision not to prosecute anyone for alleged breaches of COVID regulations at an IRA funeral was the tipping point.
The Democratic Unionist party has expressed fury over the decision, with Foster, its leader, saying it reflects one rule for Sinn Féin and another for ordinary voters who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and have been unable to attend funerals.
The DUP publicly undermining PSNI was very unwise. Sinn Fèin going back to the old method of using funerals as propaganda also shameful.
All parties have spent three years refusing to have dialogue in Stormont and appeals to have dialogue now are very very hollow.
All of them just exploit divisions and tensions all the time. Not a single one of them is with the people.
Simmering for months over the Brexit Protocol, establishing a trade border in the Irish Sea.
Others have put the blame on people’s anger with Brexit, with Stormont’s justice minister, Naomi Long, saying Boris Johnson’s “dishonesty” over Brexit border checks has inflamed the situation.
Front-line police officers are bearing the brunt of failures in politics and policing, according to a former deputy chief constable.
Jim Gamble said: “They’re the ones that will be standing in front of the angry crowds, they’re the ones that are going to be sitting in the back of Land Rovers that are on fire.
“This is not the fault of the front-line police officer. This is a failure of politics and I believe there are questions to be asked at the most senior level in policing about their ability to lead in a consistent manner and the only thing that should govern policing is the rule of law.”
Many people expressed concern about the potential for republican violence if there was a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
But few seem to have considered the potential for loyalist violence in the event of a border in the Irish Sea.
A 13-year-old boy was one of nine people arrested when trouble flared in loyalist parts of Greater Belfast and Londonderry earlier this week and over the weekend.
Police said the bus was pelted with petrol bombs at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road in west Belfast, meanwhile, stones were thrown at officers while a press photographer was assaulted nearby.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attack on Twitter, saying: “There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.”
She later added: “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. My thoughts are with the bus driver.”
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.— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) April 7, 2021
My thoughts are with the bus driver. https://t.co/2JRcOb6s8C
Boris Johnson tweeted: “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.”
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 Northern Ireland Assembly had already been recalled from recess after rioting in the city left more than 40 police officers injured.
It had not been due to return until 12 April.
First Minister Arlene Foster tweeted in response to a post by a journalist who said that they were attacked by two masked men.
“There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop,” she said.