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Northern Ireland: Cars set on fire in Newtownabbey spark fears of further trouble

Written by on 4 April 2021

Disturbances have broken out in Newtownabbey fuelling fears of another night of trouble ahead in Northern Ireland.

Three cars were hijacked and set on fire in the loyalist O’Neill/Doagh Road area of Newtownabbey, on the outskirts of Belfast, on Saturday evening.

A large crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the unrest unfold at the Cloughfern roundabout. Video footage showed cars being burned and a police van being targeted.

Masked loyalists after hijacking and setting a car on fire at the Cloughfern roundabout in Newtownabbey Image: Trouble broke out at the Cloughfern roundabout

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has called for an end of the violence, saying people destroying their own communities is “not the way to protest or vent”.

It comes after eight people were arrested and 27 police officers injured during riots in Belfast and Londonderry on Friday night.

Fifteen officers were injured in Belfast after coming under attack while policing a small protest in the loyalist Sandy Row area of the city. There were up to 300 people of all ages on the streets.

District commander, Chief Superintendent Simon Walls, said officers had suffered burns, head and leg injuries after being subjected to “a sustained attack” by rioters throwing heavy masonry, metal rods, fireworks and manhole covers.

Two boys, 13 and 14, were among eight people arrested.

“I think it’s a tragedy that any child in Northern Ireland is sitting in a custody suite this morning and facing criminal investigation, possibility of being charged and possibility of facing a criminal conviction,” Chief Superintendent Walls said.

“It shouldn’t happen. And that’s why I’m very keen that people with influence try to ask anyone intent on violence to please step back. It’s not the way to resolve tensions or arguments.”

Sandy Row Image: Rioters clash with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast

Seven people including three teenage boys have been charged with riot, police said.

Four adults – three men, aged 25, 21 and 18 years old, and a woman, aged 19 – are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on 30 April.

Three teenagers, aged 17, 14 and 13, are due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on the same date.

Another 12 officers were hurt in Derry after being targeted by mainly young people.

Derry City and Strabane Area Commander Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said police received reports on Friday night of youths gathering in the areas of Nelson Drive and Tullyally in the city.

“On their arrival, they came under sustained attack from a large group of youths and young adults throwing masonry, bottles, petrol bombs and fireworks,” he said.

“As a result 12 officers sustained injuries including head, leg and foot wounds.”

PSNI Belfast District Commander Chief Superintendent Simon Walls speaks to the media at police headquarters in Belfast Image: Simon Walls called on those with influence to dissuade young people from violence

Mr Jones also said a care home was damaged in the Nelson Drive area during the trouble causing “untold fear and distress” to residents.

He said it was “totally unacceptable” that Friday was the fifth successive night of disturbances in the unionist Waterside area of the city.

“It is vital that we all send out a message to those responsible that such behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.

“The people of Derry/Londonderry deserve to feel safe within their own homes and be able to walk the streets without fear.

“I would ask that anyone who has any influence in communities – whether parents, guardians, community or elected representatives – please, use that influence to ensure young people do not get caught up in criminality and that they are kept safe and away from harm.”

Political leaders have also called for calm over the Easter weekend following the riots.

Tension over the UK-EU Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol, the establishment of a border in the Irish Sea, has been simmering in the loyalist community for months.

Rioters clash with police in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. Picture date: Friday April 2, 2021.  Image: Seven people have been charged following the incident at Sandy Row

But this week’s decision by public prosecutors not to charge anyone with alleged breaches of COVID regulations at an IRA funeral sparked Unionist outrage.

Stormont’s First Minister Arlene Foster urged young people “not to get drawn into disorder”, saying violence “will not make things better”.

The DUP leader said: “I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better.

“And I send my strong support to all of the rank-and-file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend.

“I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives.

“I also ask parents to play their part and be proactive in protecting their young adults.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the unrest as “completely unacceptable”.

Mr Lewis said: “Violence is never the answer. There is no place for it in society.

“It is unwanted, unwarranted and I fully support the PSNI appeal for calm.”

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Police officers injured in riot in Belfast

Analysis: Policing remains an enormous challenge in Northern Ireland

Twenty-three years after the Good Friday Agreement, policing remains an enormous challenge in Northern Ireland.

Last month, Sinn Fein condemned officers for their handling of a memorial service for victims of a loyalist gun attack.

Now Unionists are calling on the chief constable to resign over the handling of an IRA funeral in west Belfast.

For some in the loyalist community, where there is already tension over the Brexit Protocol, it was a tipping point.

But how many young people are going to end up with criminal records for rioting before communities find better ways to express frustrations?

Until they do, the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be attempting to police a divided society in Northern Ireland.

Two decades after the historic compromise, that says more about the politics of this place than it says about policing.

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