Leaders condemn 'deplorable' Northern Ireland unrest

Belfast

LEADERS in Northern Ireland came together on Thursday to condemn days of violent unrest stemming from the territory's pro-UK community, including a petrol-bomb attack on a moving bus.

The British and Irish governments also denounced the latest unrest, which has erupted amid anger over apparent economic dislocation as a result of Brexit and existing tensions between the pro-UK unionist and pro-Irish nationalist communities.

"Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities," said the Northern Ireland executive - made up of unionist, nationalist and centrist parties.

In the latest disorder Wednesday, gates were set alight on a "peace line" - walls separating pro-Irish nationalist and pro-UK unionist communities - as crowds threw petrol bombs over the wall. The nightly attacks have left more than 50 police officers injured, as well as a press photographer and the driver of the bus fire-bombed on Wednesday.

They were "deplorable and they must stop", the executive said in a statement. "While our political positions are very different on many issues, we are all united in our support for law and order and we collectively state our support for policing and for the police officers who have been putting themselves in harm's way to protect others," it added.

Northern Ireland's legislative assembly interrupted its Easter break for an emergency debate on the violence. Pro-Irish nationalist and centrist leaders identified Brexit as one root cause and criticised London for breaking promises to the unionists.

For her part, unionist First Minister Arlene Foster refrained from her recent criticisms of the nationalist party Sinn Fein, condemning "rioting, criminality and wanton destruction".

"It is not in the name of the people who live in the areas," she told the debate. In the debate, leaders accused pro-UK loyalist paramilitaries of orchestrating the violence, enlisting children as young as 12 to hurl petrol bombs after the groups come under pressure from police roundups amid coronavirus lockdowns.

But for many unionists, there is also outrage after the authorities decided not to prosecute Sinn Fein leaders for going to the funeral last year of a former paramilitary leader, which was attended by thousands of people in apparent breach of Covid restrictions.

Naomi Long, justice minister for the centrist Alliance Party, spoke of her "horror" at seeing juvenile demonstrators being goaded on by adults in the unionist community and said it was a "miracle" that nobody had yet died in the violence.

She also spoke of feeling "some sympathy to those people out there who feel betrayed" by the British government's Brexit policy, mocking Prime Minister Boris Johnson's "fantasy" promises of "sunlit uplands" after Britain quit the European Union. AFP

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