NI leaders call for an end to the “madness and mayhem”

Last night there was a fourth night of rioting in north Belfast, during which police fired a number of baton rounds, a car was set on fire and petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown.

Last night there was a fourth night of rioting in north Belfast, during which police fired a number of baton rounds, a car was set on fire and petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown during sporadic violence in Ardoyne. The BBC reports that two men in their late teens and early 20s were arrested.

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said police would be conducting a major investigation into the violence:

“We will now continue to work hard to identity those involved and will be doing our utmost to put people before the courts. We are very clear that we can and we will continue to maintain public safety and public confidence – we would appeal for the assistance of everyone to that end.”

The latest outbursts are less intense than those of previous nights. On Tuesday night, 100 police officers were forced to use a water cannon to repeal nationalist rioters firing shots at them, erecting burning barricades and shining laser pens at the police.

Earlier this week, it was reported that 82 police officers had been injured during protests on Sunday and Monday evening. Nationalist protesters took the action following Monday’s 12th of July parades, the day that a majority of unionist Orange Order parades take place, marking the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.   

SDLP councillor Nicola Mallon called for an end to the “absolute madness and mayhem” following the violent riots in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, while Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, made clear that he and the first minister remained “resolute” in their search for a solution, adding:

“This will require the community to stand united against all those forces seeking to bring conflict back on to our streets.”

Likewise, DUP first minister, Peter Robinso,n sought to highlight the partnership between himself and Mr McGuinness, declaring:

“I am disgusted at the outright thuggery and vandalism that has taken place over the course of the last 48 hours. There is no excuse and no place for violence in civilised society. Both the deputy First Minister and I have been, and will continue, to work for a resolution of the difficulties around parading.”

The latest round of violence has once again raised the need for a reformed system for regulating parades in such a way that commands the confidence of both nationalist and Unionist communities, a point echoed by Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable, Matt Baggott.

As part of the Hillsborough Agreement, a commitment was given to seeking a new framework for parades.

This was followed by a consultation which ended just yesterday, which proposed:

• A new focus on encouraging dialogue between communities;

• Replacing the current Parades Commission with two new groups – one to administer applications for or objections to parades and to facilitate talks and a second adjudicating body to make rulings where no agreement can be found; and that

• Under the plans, marchers would be obliged to apply for a parade 37 days in advance, with objections to be filed within seven days, while a further seven-day deadline would be put in place for permission to stage a protest against an event.

The measures however have proven contentious, despite both Sinn Fein and the DUP having sought to reassure their respective communities.

Last week, the loyalist Orange Order rejected the reforms, whilst SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, has said:

“The Public Assemblies, Parades and Protests Bill is a most obnoxious piece of legislation resulting from the worst kind of behind-the-scenes deal-making.”

Her comments came after Eamonn McAnn, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, warned Northern Ireland not to “sleep walk” into the new parades legislation, whilst an editorial in the Newsletter on Monday concluded:

“Anyone who has looked at these proposals, whether charities or churches, trade unionists or school governors, will recognise that the current proposals are a recipe for chaos.”

The riots over the past days will once again put pressure on all sides to come up with a solution. However, perhaps most worrying of all, as the BBC’s Northern Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson concludes, whilst the violence has brought political leaders together, “the problem was the rioters don’t seem to be listening”.

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