7th night of Belfast riots and protests: Bus set alight and petrol bombs thrown

Belfast Riots

Police in Belfast faced further disruption in Belfast on Thursday (April 8) night as crowds gathered again for the seventh night. Police blasted rioters with water cannon. Police officers were called in from other parts of Northern Ireland to help to deal with the rioting. More than 50 officers have been hurt in violence in several areas since the end of last month.

Police said as many as 600 people had been involved in disturbances in Belfast on Wednesday, when a bus was petrol-bombed, plastic bullets were fired and missiles were hurled over a “peace wall.”

Stones and fireworks were thrown at police by gangs of youths gathered on the nationalist Springfield Road on Thursday evening, close to where Wednesday night’s riots took place.

Media reports from Northern Ireland said:

On Wednesday night, a hijacked bus was set alight at the junction of Lanark Way and the Shankill Road following a protest, with crowds gathering there and at West Circular Road at its junction with the Springfield Road.

A number of tyres and bins were set on fire near the interface gates, which were later set alight.

Police were also attacked with petrol bombs and other objects were thrown over the peace wall and a car reportedly rammed the interface gates.

A press photographer is reported to have been assaulted by two masked men.

Public transport in the area was cancelled following the disorder.

A week of violence has continued in Northern Ireland. A line of heavily armored riot officers was pelted with stones, and responded with water cannon.

Video footage shot on Thursday evening shows gangs of youths facing off against a line of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers on the Springfield Road, lobbing stones and other projectiles at them.

As darkness fell, fireworks were launched at police lines.

Springfield Road is a predominantly nationalist area, and is separated from the mostly Loyalist Shankill Road by a fortified ‘peace wall.’ On the other side of the line, Unionists also clashed with police.

Back on the Springfield Road, nationalist community leaders reportedly intervened to stop some youths throwing petrol bombs at the police lines. Still, as projectiles flew toward them, the officers used water cannon to disperse the crowd, and advanced on the mob with riot shields hoisted and police dogs barking.

Some nationalists accused the PSNI of cracking down harder on their side than on the Loyalists, whereas Loyalist anger has been attributed to the decision not to prosecute politicians from the republican Sinn Fein party who attended the funeral of a Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer despite Covid restrictions.

In addition to their anger over the Republican funeral, Loyalists have reacted with outrage to the UK’s post-Brexit agreement with the EU, which sees the British territory remain inside the EU’s single market but outside the trading bloc proper. Unionists claim the post-Brexit arrangement sees a de-facto border created down the Irish sea, separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheal Martin have made a joint call for calm after days of unrest in Northern Ireland.

In a statement, the Irish Government said the two leaders stressed that violence was unacceptable.

“The way forward is through dialogue and working the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” the statement said.

“They agreed that the two governments would continue to stay in contact.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis welcomed a united message of condemnation of the violence by the Stormont parties.

However, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland challenged the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) to publicly condemn recent violence across the region.

He added: “There is a proper political process and they have been clear that violence in the past is not the way to move forward and they need to be clear about that again,” he said. “Words fail me for what goes through an adult’s mind to encourage a 13-year-old kid to behave that way.”

Those involved were warned by police to “disperse immediately. However, those present continued to fire missiles at police and after several warnings, the water cannon was deployed.

Later in the evening, there were reports that police warned crowds “impact rounds will be fired.”

Impact rounds, also known as AEPs or plastic bullets, are not used as a means of crowd control in any part of the UK apart from Northern Ireland, and their use has been condemned by human rights groups.

Six plastic bullets were fired by police during Wednesday night’s events.

Some of those present jeered before fleeing as the water jet came closer.

The Northern Ireland Press Photographers Association (NIPPA) has condemned the attack on photojournalist Kevin Scott.

Mr Scott was assaulted and verbally abused by two masked men during the course of his work while covering the riots in west Belfast on Wednesday night.

Police are appealing for information following disorder in west Belfast (Wednesday 7 April).

A double decker bus had been hijacked at the junction of Lanark Way. “The driver and passengers were removed from the bus before it was set on fire.

“No one was injured during the incident; however the driver was left badly shaken.

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, has joined in condemnation of the ongoing violence, which has escalated in parts of Northern Ireland in recent days.

Translink have held a meeting with its Trade Union representatives to review bus services operating in Belfast and other regions across NI following the recent violence and hijacking of a bus in Belfast on April 7.

A statement from the Irish Government said:

“Stressing that violence is unacceptable, they called for calm.

“The way forward is through dialogue and working the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

“They agreed that the two governments would continue to stay in contact.”

Northern Ireland’s Sectetary of State Brandon Lewis said he has encouraged politicians to “think very carefully” about the language they use.

Rioting was worst in years

Rioting in Belfast on Wednesday night was on a scale not seen in Northern Ireland for years, police have said.

Senior police sources now say there was no evidence of UVF organisational involvement in last night’s trouble in west Belfast.

Earlier the PSNI had suspected that individuals within the paramilitary group had encouraged some of the trouble.

However, following the progress of an investigation, police are now satisfied the group and its leadership was not involved.

Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts was asked at a press conference if he feared weapons could come on to the streets.

“Given the history of Northern Ireland, it is something always in the back of our minds,” he said.

Some unionists have linked the violence in recent days to the decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) not to prosecute anyone who attended the funeral of former IRA man Bobby Storey in June 2020.

It was attended by 2,000 mourners, including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at a time when Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

They have also linked it to simmering loyalist tensions over the Irish Sea border imposed as a result of the UK-EU Brexit deal.

In recent days 10 people have been arrested as a result of rioting by gangs of people, some as young as 13.

All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland have criticised the disorder but they are divided over its causes.

The violence has been brought on by a combination of factors.

Northern Ireland politics and bigger events like Brexit are all in play here but there is no single straightforward reason.

There is a lot of fury over the attendance of Sinn Féin politicians at a funeral of a former IRA leader last summer, which appeared to blatantly flout Covid-19 rules.

Sinn Féin’s most senior politicians, among long lines of former IRA members, walked through the streets behind a cortege at a time when many people missed attending funerals for their own loved ones.

“Republicans do what they like and get away with it” has broadly become one of the narratives being used to justify trouble against the police.

However there were also loyalist funerals which broke rules during the pandemic.

Brexit has been creating tension in loyalist communities for months, with the growing realisation over just how differently Northern Ireland is now being treated from the rest of the UK.

Signs of anger over the new Irish Sea trade border are plastered on walls and lampposts in unionist and loyalist areas.

In these areas, it feels that Boris Johnson has betrayed Northern Ireland and there is a backlash.

But that is not all – there are much more localised issues too.

Loyalist paramilitaries have been subject to a series of raids and arrests for their criminal activities and police believe in some areas these are the figures in the background helping to encourage trouble.

Last week a decision was made not to prosecute senior Sinn Féin members who attended the funeral.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and the Alliance Party have accused unionist politicians of ramping up rhetoric in recent days by calling for Mr Byrne to stand down.

On Thursday, the Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled for politicians to consider a motion calling for an “immediate and complete end” to violence in loyalist areas.

White House expresses concern over Northern Ireland violence

The White House has expressed concern over a week of riots in Northern Ireland, with Joe Biden joining Boris Johnson and the Irish prime minister in calling for calm after what police described as the worst violence in Belfast for years.

Biden, who has Irish roots, has repeatedly expressed support for the peace process and last year waded into a row over UK plans to override parts of the Brexit deal, warning Boris Johnson that any trade deal was “contingent upon respect for the [peace] agreement and preventing the return of a hard border”.



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