An emergency meeting of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive is set to take place this morning after a night of civil disorder in west Belfast.
During several hours of civil unrest, 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 posted on Twitter saying: “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.”
In recent days 10 people have been arrested because 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.
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 because 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”.
“These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They… only serve to take the focus off the real lawbreakers in Sinn Féin,” First Minister Foster posted on social media.
On the nationalist side 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.
She 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.”
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.
“We fully support the police and rule of law,” Mr Lyons said.
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