Those who attacked police with ceremonial swords ‘should be in prison’: Peter Robinson

First Minister Peter Robinson
First Minister Peter Robinson

People who attack police with ceremonial swords should be in prison, Northern Ireland’s First Minister said today.

Peter Robinson told a special sitting of the Stormont Assembly there was no excuse for the violence which has marred parts of Northern Ireland over the past four nights.

The Democratic Unionist leader told MLAs: “I honestly do not believe that anybody in this society can condemn or condone on the issue of violence in our society. It has dogged our community for generations and it must come to an end.

“The one message that this community will be waiting to hear from this Assembly is condemnation of violence, a requirement for people to stand by the rule of law. I don’t think that anybody who takes a ceremonial sword to the head of a police officer can honestly find anywhere more suitable to be than in prison. There is no excuse for anybody carrying out what was an attempt to murder or seriously injure a police officer.”

The Assembly has been recalled to debate a DUP motion which said efforts to build a shared future had been harmed by the decision to ban Protestant Orangemen from marching on a contested stretch of road in north Belfast on July 12.

Mr Robinson said the Parades Commission - the adjudicating body set up in 1998 to rule on contentious marches - had got it wrong.

He added: “The Parades Commission took their decision for political reasons. They have an agenda and that agenda is that first of all they want the Orange Institution to engage with them. They want the Orange Institution to engage with local residents and they will take their decisions to further their agenda as opposed to what is right or wrong in a particular set of circumstances of any parade.

“I think the Parades Commission got it completely wrong. I don’t believe that the Parades Commission have the respect or credibility in the community to continue in being.”

The DUP motion also calls for respect for the law and for “tolerance to be shown for everyone’s cultural identity”.

Mr Robinson encouraged everyone to engage with Dr Richard Haass, who will arrive in Northern Ireland this week to chair the all-party working group set up to agree an alternative to the Parades Commission.

Tabling an amendment Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein MLA for north Belfast claimed the perception that republicans were engaged in a cultural war against loyalism was ill-informed.

He said: “I am not up for sectarianism or racism no matter where it comes from. Whether it is the nationalist side, the unionist side or anywhere else. I am not up for holy statues appearing on bonfires, I am not up for effigies of working priests - people who were very well respected - being part of that if that could be described as culture, or anti-Catholic songs being played outside Catholic chapels or indeed any anti-religious song outside any place of worship.

“There is no republican war on the cultural identity of Britishness or loyalism - it is believed in by a wide range of people because it is peddled by people who should know better in leadership in terms of Unionism and the Orange Order.”

Outside Parliament Buildings up to 100 people gathered for a protest organised by the Progressive Unionist Party.

PUP east Belfast representative Jonny Harvey said he feared today’s debate would be a talking shop.

“The violence is completely unjustifiable. Those people who are intent on violence by hijacking peaceful protests for their own means. As a result, our genuine reasons and needs are being ignored because of that violence.”

Seventy-one police officers have been injured and more than 60 people were arrested during four consecutive nights of violence.

Six blast bombs were thrown at officers in east Belfast who were also pelted with a barrage of petrol bombs, bricks, heavy masonry and other missiles. Trouble also flared in other areas of Belfast.

Loyalists and republicans were involved in the disorder.

Elsewhere, disturbances broke out in Portadown while in Antrim and Dungannon, police were forced to remove roadblocks.

Around 90 people took part in a peaceful white line protest in Londonderry. However, police seized up to 20 paint bombs.

Ahead of the Assembly meeting, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott called for calm words.

He said: “The PSNI is resolved to upholding the rule of law. Today is a day for calming words and a renewed commitment from the Assembly to finding political solutions. There are already too many injured police officers and young people facing prison sentences for anything else to be acceptable.”