PSNI chief pledges action over Belfast disorder

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th August 2017 ''Trouble in the Markets area of south Belfast as agencies moved into remove a bonfire in the. ''Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th August 2017 ''Trouble in the Markets area of south Belfast as agencies moved into remove a bonfire in the. ''Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye.

Northern Ireland’s police chief has vowed to bring to justice those responsible for the disorder that saw his officers attacked and property torched in Belfast.

George Hamilton also highlighted the need for parental responsibility in averting violence that was largely perpetrated by youths.

The removal of wood from a bonfire site in the nationalist Markets area near the city centre by Belfast City Council-hired contractors triggered the violent scenes.

Mr Hamilton’s warning came as Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill denied her party’s drive within the council to take action against dangerous bonfires had stirred tensions among the young people who build them.

Extra patrols are to be mounted in the city on Tuesday in a bid to avoid a repeat of Monday’s disturbances.

A derelict credit union building and cars were set alight and officers were targeted by a petrol bomb, bricks and bottles.

Bonfires are due to be lit in some nationalist areas later on Tuesday evening to mark the anniversary of the introduction of the controversial state policy of internment without trial.

Mr Hamilton said: “These were largely young people involved in causing destruction and mayhem in their own communities.

“There is absolutely no excuse, no justification for the burning of cars and the causing of destruction in people’s own communities - it just doesn’t make sense at any level.”

He insisted arrests would follow.

“We are gathering evidence and there will be arrests and those responsible for this behaviour will be brought to justice,” said the region’s top officer.

Mr Hamilton highlighted that children as young as 12 were involved.

“People engaged in this are responsible for their actions but parents have a responsibility too in all of this.”

Tensions have been raised in some loyalist and nationalist areas in Belfast this summer amid efforts by the council to take action against a number of unregulated bonfires.

Mainstream republicans have distanced themselves from the bonfires in nationalist areas, blaming anti-social elements for the trouble.

Last week the council supported a Sinn Fein proposal to allow the seizure of material from dangerous bonfires.

In response to the removal of wood from one site, masked youths ran amok in the Markets on Monday.

Mrs O’Neill denied her party’s actions in the council had exacerbated tensions.

She condemned those involved.

“The community don’t want to see that action and it is the action of a small number of people,” she said.

“It is not something the community want to be involved with, it is not something that is a wider problem.

“I believe that it is time for strong political leadership. Sinn Fein have not been found wanting in that regard, particularly in the last number of days.

“Tackling these issues is a policing issue on one hand, but it is also a political problem on the other hand.”

Trouble flared in the Markets area when several cars belonging to commuters were set alight.

It later spread to the Divis neighbourhood on the other side of the city, where the former credit union was burned.

There was also sporadic disorder in the New Lodge and North Queen Street areas.

The shells of three burned-out cars were still on Stewart Street on Tuesday morning, with commuters continuing to park on the street despite the visible signs of violence.

Five cars were damaged during the trouble.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said one officer sustained minor injuries in the disturbances. Two PSNI Land Rovers were also damaged.

On the Falls Road, a bus was also damaged.