Police officers were attacked with petrol bombs last night as violence erupted once again in Northern Ireland amid loyalist riots over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
A total of 30 bombs were hurled at police in Newtownabbey, on the outskirts of Belfast on Saturday, and three cars were hijacked and set alight in what has since been termed as an ‘orchestrated attack’.
The fifth consecutive night of disorder came just a day after 12 officers were injured in Derry on Friday by a large group throwing masonry, bottles, petrol bombs and fireworks.
Some 27 police officers were injured on Friday night across Belfast and Derry.
North Area Commander Chief Superintendent Davy Beck said 30 petrol bombs were thrown last night after a crowd of 20 to 30 people people gathered in the O’Neill Road/Cloughfern area from around 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
A man walks past a burning car after it was hijacked at the Cloughfern roundabout in Newtownabbey and set alight
A police van is engulfed in flames after violence breaks out in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast
A burnt car and flames are seen on the street after rioters descended upon the scene nt out car in Newtownabbey last night
He said: ‘In total 30 petrol bombs were thrown at police and three vehicles were hijacked and set on fire,’ he said.
‘One man aged 47 was arrested and he currently remains in police custody.’
Mr Beck continued: ‘My officers put on their uniform every day and go out into the community they serve, not knowing what lies ahead of them.
‘However this does not deter them from turning up every day to do their duty.
‘No-one, no matter what line of work they are in, deserves to be subjected to any kind of violence.
‘The officers who serve the Newtownabbey area are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, they have families who wait every day on their loved ones coming home, hoping they have not been injured, or worse.’
He added: ‘We are living in unprecedented times, dealing with a global pandemic, no-one needs the added pressure of disorder in their community.
‘I would appeal to those who are taking to the streets to stop immediately, their actions are causing nothing but harm and distress to the very communities they claim they are representing.’
The scenes come amid rising tensions within loyalism across Northern Ireland.
Loyalists and unionists are angry about customs checks on goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland, which has caused shortages and is viewed as the erection of a hard border in the Irish Sea.
Many unionists and loyalists are against the protocol because they believe it has created an economic barrier between the region and the rest of the UK, undermining the constitutional integrity of the Union.
In Co Antrim, a recent series of drug seizures against the South East Antrim UDA – a renegade faction of the main grouping – have caused particular ill-feeling towards police.
A person stands at the scene as smoke rises into the air after another night of disorder in Northern Ireland
The Police Service of Northern Ireland attends the scene in Newtownabbey after 30 petrol bombs were thrown at officers
Police cars rush to the scene after three cars were set alight in what has since been termed as an ‘orchestrated attack’
The faction is believed to have been behind the disturbances in Newtownabbey on Saturday.
Tensions ramped up further this week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.
All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and other unionist parties have condemned the violence.
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly claimed the disturbances were ‘a direct consequence of the actions of political unionism’.
‘The disturbances in loyalist areas across the north are an outworking of the DUP’s rhetoric and undermining of the PSNI and criminal justice system,’ he said.
‘By their words and actions they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas.
‘The DUP and political unionist leaders need to show leadership and end the incendiary rhetoric.’
Meanwhile seven people have been charged with riot after the disturbances in the Sandy Row area.
Four adults – three men aged 25, 21 and 18 years old, and a woman, aged 19 – have been charged with riot.
All four are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on April 30.
Three teenagers, aged 17, 14 and 13, have also been charged with riot.
They are due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on April 30.
As is normal procedure, all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.
An eighth person arrested in connection with the unrest on Friday night, a man aged 19, has been released on police bail pending further inquiries.