RIOTING in Northern Ireland continued over the Easter weekend and into this week, despite appeals for calm, among them a joint appeal by the Archbishop of Armagh and three other Anglican diocesan bishops in the province, who warned young people not to get involved in actions that they would “regret for the rest of their lives”.
The Northern Ireland Assembly convened for an emergency meeting on Thursday morning after a night of violence in west Belfast, during which police officers were attacked, petrol bombs were thrown, and a bus was burnt, the BBC reports. The Police Federation said that seven officers were injured.
In a joint statement issued on Easter Monday after a weekend of unrest, the four bishops (including Down & Dromore, Derry & Raphoe, and Connor) called for an immediate halt to the violence, and urged those on the streets — some of whom, police have said, are as young as 12 — to realise that their actions could have lifelong consequences.
Loyalist anger over post-Brexit trading arrangements, and the decision not to prosecute people who attended the large-scale funeral of the republican Bobby Storey, during lockdown last year, has spilled over into violence and rioting on the streets.
The bishops’ said: “The violence which has been happening in parts of Northern Ireland over the past week is wrong and should stop immediately.
“People may feel aggrieved at things which have happened in the political sphere recently, but that is where any grievances should be addressed — in the political arena — and any response to these grievances should remain constitutional and legal.
“It is never acceptable for anyone to attack police officers with petrol bombs, stones and fireworks, and to risk causing them serious injury or worse.
“The PSNI [Police Service Northern Ireland] do an incredibly difficult job and deserve our support. People may have criticisms of policing but there is a forum for this, and any criticisms should always be expressed respectfully.”
The bishops called on young people involved in the riots to think about their futures.
“There may be lifelong consequences, too, for some of the younger people involved in the past week’s disturbances, who could end up with prison sentences, criminal records or life-changing injuries.
“We urge them not to become involved in rioting and not to do anything which they might regret for the rest of their lives,” they said.
“Rioting and destruction are never the answer. They destroy neighbourhoods and divide our community.”
The Church of Ireland letter was sent by the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell; the Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd David McClay; the Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, the Rt Revd Andrew Forster; and the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Revd George Davison.
On Tuesday, the First Minister, Arlene Foster, also urged young people not to risk getting a criminal record by becoming involved in the violence. She also said, however, that confidence had gone in the leadership of the PSNI after its decision not to prosecute people who had attended a republican funeral during the pandemic, including the Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Fein.
During the Easter weekend, officers were injured during violence in Belfast, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus, and Derry, as petrol bombs were thrown and vehicles were set alight. The Police Federation said that some of those who were hurt had potentially “career-impacting” injuries. Ten arrests have been made in the past week.
Both Boris Johnson and the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, have condemned the violence as “unacceptable”.