Sinn Fein has been accused of “double standards” following a week of violent disorder that has seen two dissident republican murder bids against police officers in Londonderry.
Trouble flared in the city for the sixth successive night on Thursday as rioters – some as young as 12 – hurled more than 70 petrol bombs at police in the nationalist Bogside area.
Two explosive devices were also thrown at officers in what the PSNI described as a “prolonged and sustained attack”.
Three men, aged 18, 22 and 50, were arrested following the overnight disturbances, with the 22-year-old detained on suspicion of attempted murder.
The 50-year-old man has been charged with disorderly behaviour and is due to appear at Omagh Magistrates’ Court today.
Chief Constable George Hamilton said the so-called ‘New IRA’ is the main dissident group behind the latest violence.
He also expressed concern that it was “nothing short of a miracle” that no one had been killed as a result of the attacks on his officers.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said young people “should not be exploited as cannon fodder to do the bidding of those with failed political and personal agendas”.
But her remarks were slammed by DUP MP Gregory Campbell, who said the SF president was “conveniently overlooking” the past actions of violent republicanism.
He told the News Letter: “While most people will agree with what she is saying in this instance, it is unfortunate it took so long for her and the organisation she represents to come to this point.”
He said dissident republicans were now emulating the tactics of the IRA during the Troubles – orchestrating disorder from behind the scenes and placing young people on the front lines to draw out police.
“I suppose she is hoping that people will not remember that, in the past, the organisation she now heads up was responsible for very similar actions,” the East Londonderry representative said.
“She is conveniently overlooking what happened in the past. But Sinn Fein’s double-standards will not be overlooked. Dissident republicans seem to be looking to repeat the mistakes made by the IRA.”
Meanwhile, Doug Beattie of the UUP has said the week-long scenes of violence in Londonderry “would not be tolerated” if they were taking place in any city in Great Britain.
He said: “We have a secretary of state who you would expect to be fully engaged with what is going on. But she seems to be so divorced and distant from it, which shows me that the government is not giving it the focus it needs. If this disorder was going on in Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow, there would be extra resources brought in to help police.”
In a statement, NI Secretary Karen Bradley condemned the disorder as “completely unacceptable”.
“My full support goes to the PSNI and others who are working so hard to end this intolerable violence by a small minority,” she added.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned that “someone will be killed” if the rioting continues.
She tweeted yesterday: “Really disturbing scenes last night in Londonderry. The police are risking life and limb trying to tackle this.”
Thursday’s disorder flared after the city hosted a Twelfth demonstration, which passed off peacefully.
PSNI Supt Gordon McCalmont said he was “saddened, disheartened and frustrated” that police had once again been subjected to attacks from a small number of people in the Bogside.
“It is nothing short of a miracle that officers were not injured,” he added.
“While we have seen many young people involved in these attacks over the last number of nights, it is clear that this is being orchestrated by a more sinister, adult, violent dissident republican element. This must end now.”
The Police Federation has said those encouraging children and young people to riot in the Bogside are guilty of child abuse.
Chairman Mark Lindsay called on the community to take back the streets from the “gangsters”, and described dissident republicans involved in orchestrating the disorder as a “pitiless, heartless bunch of cowards”.
He added: “The terrorists who skulk in the shadows get children - some no older than 12 - to do their dirty work by firing petrol bombs, bricks and bottles at police lines.
“This is child abuse. Young, vulnerable kids are encouraged to riot and cause mayhem so that the bomber and gunman can gain a better vantage position. It is sickening what they are doing.”
DUP MLA Gary Middleton said the disorder was “the most disturbing and troubling scenes” in Londonderry for years.
He added that, with burning barricades being erected, parts of the Bogside were akin to the no-go areas of the 1970s.
“Not only were children being used by faceless sinister elements but some adults stood as spectators whilst young people hurled petrol bombs and other objects at the police,” he added.