Loyalist thugs last night hijacked and firebombed a bus and sent it blazing down the Shankill Road during a sixth consecutive night of violence in Belfast.
Masked rioters hurled petrol bombs at police at the junction of Lanark Way in the west of the city and attacked a press photographer – smashing his camera and shouting: ‘F**k off back to your own area you fenian c**t.’
The youngsters hurled Molotov cocktails over some of the peace barriers into Catholic areas – which returned fire – and lit blazes in the streets as officers struggled to maintain order.
Hundreds of others marched along the main roads under supervision from police as tension mounted across the city in scenes reminiscent of the Troubles.
Boris Johnson and Arlene Foster were quick to condemn the actions, with the PM calling for ‘dialogue’ while the DUP leader said there is ‘no justification for violence’.
The Northern Ireland Executive has called an urgent meeting of politicians on Thursday morning to be briefed on the mayhem.
The violence over the past week erupted after prosecutors said no action would be taken against 24 Sinn Fein politicians – including deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill – for a huge republican funeral during the pandemic.
But at its heart is loyalist anger at post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK. They see the Northern Ireland Protocol as undermining their place in the Union.
Videos circulating online show a bus being pelted with petrol bombs and having its windows smashed where a crowd of people had gathered
An Irish nationalist stands in smoke close to a fire at the ‘peace wall’ gates into Lanark Way as protests continued in Belfast, Northern Ireland, last night
A bus was hijacked and set alight after being pelted with petrol bombs at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road in west Belfast, the PSNI said. Pictured: Belfast last night
A PSNI officer stands on North Queen Street in Belfast looking towards Tigers Bay where three Police Land Rovers form a police line during further unrest
A fire in a street in the mainly nationalist New Lodge area of north Belfast during further unrest
Nationalists and Loyalists clash with one another at the ‘peace wall’ on Lanark Way in west Belfast, Northern Ireland, last night
A man walks through the ‘peace gate’ while holding a brick as clashes continued last night
Boris Johnson last night condemned the scenes in Northern Ireland, writing: : ‘I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland’
Irish premier Micheal Martin added: ‘I utterly condemn the violent attacks on police, a journalist, and bus driver over recent days in The North’
It follows several nights of unrest in loyalist communities amid tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol on Brexit and the PSNI’s handling of alleged coronavirus regulation breaches by Sinn Fein at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey. Pictured: Belfast last night
LOYALIST ANGER AT POST-BREXIT TRADE RULES AMONG FACTORS IN ULSTER DISORDER
The street disorder that has flared in various parts of Northern Ireland for more than a week can be attributed to a multitude of factors.
At its heart is loyalist anger at post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.
For loyalism, Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol has undermined their place in the Union.
But it took an event unrelated to the Irish Sea border furore to set a match to resentment that has been simmering since the consequences of exiting the EU became a reality at the start of January.
The announcement by prosecutors last week that no action would be taken against 24 Sinn Fein politicians, including deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, for attending a huge republican funeral during the pandemic sparked outrage among some loyalists.
In several loyalist working class areas, many still in the grip of the malign influence of paramilitary gangs, sporadic rioting has since flared.
Belfast, Londonderry, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Ballymena have all witnessed scenes of violence that many hoped had been consigned to the history books.
There have also been bouts of disorder within republican areas in recent days.
In the most stark, youths on both sides of a west Belfast peace line pelted petrol bombs and other missiles at each other through Wednesday night.
For loyalists, the funeral of former IRA leader Bobby Storey last June hardened a long-standing perception held by many within their community that the institutions of the state afford preferential treatment to republicans.
For apparent confirmation, they pointed to police engagement with the Sinn Fein funeral organisers prior to an event that saw around 2,000 people take to the streets of west Belfast when tight limits on public gatherings were in place.
This interaction with the planners was one reason why senior prosecutors concluded any prosecution of Ms O’Neill and her colleagues was doomed to fail – the other being the ‘incoherent’ nature of Stormont’s Covid-19 regulations at the time.
Criticism of the PSNI approach was not confined to hard-line elements within loyalism and all the main unionist parties subsequently called for chief constable Simon Byrne to resign, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.
DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has said she will no longer engage with Mr Byrne.
Her lack of communication with the region’s police chief during a time of escalating street violence, and coming only weeks after she met with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries to discuss the Brexit fall out, has drawn sharp criticism from political rivals.
Non-unionist parties have accused Mrs Foster and other unionist political leaders of stoking up tensions, not only in relation to the Storey funeral but also in respect of the Irish Sea border.
The DUP leader and other prominent voices within unionism and loyalism insist they are only reflecting genuinely held concerns they say must be addressed – specifically by way of Mr Byrne’s resignation and the binning of the Protocol.
Amid the current unionist clamour for Mr Byrne’s head, and claims of ‘two tier’ policing, it is worth noting that two months ago the PSNI chief constable was facing similar claims of discriminatory behaviour from within nationalism.
Those were prompted by a controversial police operation in Belfast that saw a man badly injured in a loyalist gun massacre during the Troubles arrested at the scene of a commemoration event after officers intervened to probe suspected Covid regulation breaches.
Following that incident at the site of the 1992 Ormeau Road betting shop murders, Ms O’Neill claimed there was a ‘crisis in confidence’ in the PSNI among nationalists, albeit she stopped short of calling for Mr Byrne to quit.
The Protocol and funeral controversy have not created the loyalist perception that the system is weighed against them, but have built upon a narrative articulated by an increasing number within loyalism that the peace process – particularly the Good Friday accord of 1998 – has handed them a raw deal.
They cite underinvestment and deprivation in loyalist working class areas as further proof that they have missed out on the gains of peace.
Nationalists and republicans reject this premise, insisting their communities have experienced just has many problems with poverty and unemployment since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Paramilitary elements are undoubtedly involved in much of the disorder witnessed across the region in recent days – either directly or by orchestrating young people to riot on their behalf.
However, in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus an added factor is at play.
In those areas, the PSNI believes paramilitary involvement is less motivated by Brexit or the Storey funeral and more to do with a rogue faction – the South East Antrim UDA – reacting to recent police operations targeting its criminal empire.
The bus was hijacked by Loyalist thugs on the Shankill Road at an intersection between nationalist and unionist communities.
Masked youths took the handbrake off and let it roll down the hill before the gang lobbed burning bottles in through the front door and it quickly ignited.
The PSNI’s armoured Land Rover Tangis raced past the vehicle and pulled in front of it to force it to stop.
As they performed the difficult manoeuvre the crowd hurled stones and further firebombs at them before fleeing.
Earlier in the evening Belfast Telegraph photographer Kevin Scott said he was assaulted by two of the rioters.
The newspaper’s visuals editor tweeted: ‘So much for peaceful – I have just been jumped from behind by two males, masked on Cupar Way.
‘One pulled me to the ground and smashed cameras. As I fought this one off I was told to f**k off back to your own area you fenian c**t by the other. Police informed.’
He added ‘what happened to me tonight was disgusting, but not on the same level as this’ – referring to the bus driver.
Later, the gates of the peace line on Lanark Way were forced open, leading to clashes between loyalists and nationalists.
Social media footage captured petrol bombs being thrown from both sides of the wall.
Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘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.’
First Minister Ms Foster condemned the attacks on Twitter, saying: ‘There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.’
She later added: ‘This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism.
‘They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Fein. My thoughts are with the bus driver.’
Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said: ‘Disgraceful scenes of criminality tonight including a potentially lethal attack on bus driver and assault on journalist.
‘Unequivocal condemnation needed and protests should be called off immediately – police need support not politicking.’
Irish premier Micheal Martin added: ‘I utterly condemn the violent attacks on police, a journalist, and bus driver over recent days in The North.
‘Now is the time for the two Governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm.’
Leaders will meet for the briefing at 10am, an hour before the Stormont Assembly is to be recalled to discuss the recent scenes of violence.
News of the Executive meeting was confirmed late on Wednesday night while trouble still raged on the streets of Belfast.
Ms O’Neill said: ‘The Executive will meet tomorrow morning to be briefed on the violence and street disorder which is causing huge distress in local communities at this time.
‘Those involved in violence, criminal damage, manipulation of our young people and attacks on the police must stop.’
The Chief Constable of the PSNI Simon Byrne pleaded for the unrest to stop.
He said: ‘The ongoing street disorder must stop. I am open to dialogue with anyone who is willing to work with me to resolve the issues facing our community.
‘My message to those engaged in violence tonight is go home before someone is seriously injured, violence is not the answer.’
Ms Foster, along with the other unionist parties, had called for the Chief Constable to resign over the Bobby Storey funeral debacle.
Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon described the attack on the bus as ‘sickening’.
She said: ‘Those attacking their own communities and their own public services are achieving nothing and if this doesn’t stop now it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.
‘Tonight with deep regret Translink has had to suspended some services in Belfast due to ongoing disturbances.
‘Thankfully no one has been hurt in this incidence, but those responsible for this attack, and ongoing attacks on the police, need to stop and stop now.
‘I appeal for calm and call on those destroying their own communities and those fanning the flames to end this recklessness before someone is seriously hurt or killed.’
Translink chief executive Chris Conway condemned the attack on the company’s staff member.
He said: ‘Thankfully, all passengers got off the bus safely before the attack occurred.
‘My thoughts are with the driver who is badly shaken but thankfully unhurt, he is being supported by colleagues.
‘We are working closely with the PSNI and services have been suspended in this area and in other parts of the city. They will remain withdrawn until it is safe to reinstate them.
‘Our staff have been working on the frontline throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to keep essential services operating and to keep communities connected, and this attack is reprehensible.’
Police are advising members of the public to avoid these areas.
‘We would appeal to those with influence in the area to use it to help restore calm,’ a PSNI statement said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney branded Wednesday night’s events ‘disturbing’.
He said: ‘Further very disturbing scenes this evening in Belfast. Attacks on police, journalists and citizens must be condemned by all.
‘There are peaceful, democratic and legal channels to address all issues and concerns. Calm and positive leadership needed from all.’
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Louise Haigh said the ‘mindless violence’ is damaging local communities and ‘serves no purpose.’
She added: ‘The frontline police officers and all those trying to restore calm deserve our support.
‘All those with responsibility for Northern Ireland must be united in condemning the violence and coming together to bring it to an end.
‘Violence will do nothing to resolve the complex challenges facing Northern Ireland – that will only happen through engagement and constitutional politics.’
Stones were thrown at police while a press photographer was assaulted nearby during the course of their work on Wednesday evening. Pictured: Belfast last night
Later on Wednesday night, the gates of the peace line on Lanark Way were opened, leading to clashes between loyalists and nationalists
Social media footage captured petrol bombs being thrown from both sides of the wall. Pictured: The ‘peace gate’ last night
Graffiti on a wall in Eccles Street in Shankill in Belfast during further unrest last night
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attacks on Twitter, saying: ‘There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop’
A man carrying bricks in Belfast during further unrest in Belfast on Wednesday night
Irish nationalists are seen at the ‘peace wall’ gate into Lanark Way as protests continue in Belfast, Northern Ireland
The Chief Constable of the PSNI Simon Byrne has pleaded for the ongoing unrest to stop
Ms Foster, along with the other unionist parties, had called for the Chief Constable to resign over the Bobby Storey funeral debacle. Pictured: Police in Belfast on Wednesday
: A person approaches a fire during clashes at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface
STORMONT EXECUTIVE TO MEET AFTER ANOTHER NIGHT OF VIOLENCE IN NORTHERN IRELAND
The Northern Ireland Executive is to meet on Thursday morning to be briefed on the ongoing unrest seen over the last week. Leaders will meet for the briefing at 10am, an hour before the Stormont Assembly is to be recalled to discuss the recent scenes of violence in mainly loyalist areas. News of the meeting was confirmed late on Wednesday night as trouble continued to rage on the streets of Belfast, with Executive members scheduled to debate a motion condemning the recent attacks on police. Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: ‘The Executive will meet tomorrow morning to be briefed on the violence and street disorder which is causing huge distress in local communities at this time.
‘Those involved in violence, criminal damage, manipulation of our young people and attacks on the police must stop.’ Violent scenes including attacks on police, petrol bombings and rioting have taken place repeatedly on the streets of Belfast and Derry throughout the past week. First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attacks on Twitter, saying: ‘There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.’ ‘This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Fein. My thoughts are with the bus driver.’
Plans to recall the Assembly were already underway after Alliance Party leader Naomi Long secured the required support of 30 members to force a return. Ms Long – who serves as Justice Minister – said it is her party’s intention to get all parties at Stormont to ‘unite around a call for calm and the cessation of violence’.
Videos circulating online show a bus being pelted with petrol bombs and having its windows smashed where a crowd of people had gathered.
Translink Metro said it had withdrawn all services into the area until further notice due to road closures, as well as services in east Belfast.
A crowd of around 500 people, most of them adults, gathered on the corner of the junction at Lanark Way as events unfolded.
Further down the road a bonfire was lit where a crowd of approximately 100 people, mostly young, were assembled.
The Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled on Thursday morning for an emergency debate following days of violence.
Riots and attacks on police have taken place repeatedly throughout the last week and have now resumed after a relative lull on Tuesday.
Police were attacked during another night of violence in a number of loyalist areas on Monday.
Nine officers were injured in Ballymena, taking to 41 the number injured in disorder across Northern Ireland since last Friday night.
The most intense clashes on Monday were witnessed in Ballymena, when nine riot police officers were injured after they intervened in an unlawful march of loyalists through the town.
During the unrest, debris, including a wheelie bin, was thrown onto the M2 motorway, forcing its closure.
Disorder also flared in parts of Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey and Londonderry on Monday, with petrol bombs and other missiles thrown at officers.
Children as young as 12 have been involved in some of the violence that has been witnessed in recent days. Cars, a JCB digger, a phone box and bins were set alight in the Waterside area of Londonderry on Monday.
Police said that a brick was thrown at a taxi, which was carrying a passenger at the time, on the Limavady Road.
The cause of the unrest has been attributed to frustration over a decision not to prosecute members of Sinn Fein over alleged coronavirus regulation breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.
Opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol and drugs seizures against a dissident faction of the UDA in south-east Antrim have also been blamed.
Nationalists jump to avoid a petrol bomb thrown by Loyalists over the peace wall in west Belfast, Northern Ireland, last night
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney branded Wednesday night’s events ‘disturbing’
A crowd of around 500 people, most of them adults, gathered on the corner of the junction at Lanark Way as events unfolded last night
Further down the road a bonfire was lit where a crowd of approximately 100 people, mostly young, were assembled
Riots and attacks on police have taken place repeatedly throughout the last week and have now resumed after a relative lull on Tuesday