Loyalist protesters should ‘use their heads’ and step away from disorder

A DUP MP has urged loyalist protesters to “use their heads’” and step away from situations which may descend into disorder.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 6:09 pm
The police on the scene of a protest at the Antiville roundabout in Larne. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Gregory Campbell was speaking after several consecutive nights of violence across Northern Ireland which resulted in 41 police officers injured and 10 arrested.

The cause of the unrest has been attributed to frustration over a decision not to prosecute members of Sinn Fein over alleged coronavirus regulation breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

Opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol and drugs seizures against a dissident faction of the UDA in south east Antrim have also been blamed.

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The DUP has called for the resignation of police chief Simon Byrne over the lack of prosecutions.

“If people use their heads and they think ahead and say ‘we’re not going to give people the opportunity to say a chief constable can’t stand down because of the threat of violence’,” Mr Campbell told the BBC.

“That is something that would have a resonance across the community. Don’t give them that excuse.

“They should think long and hard before taking part in any protests that could eventually result in violence and serious hurt being done to individuals as well as to the wider community they live in.”

Mr Byrne briefed the Northern Ireland Policing Board on Wednesday in a private session on the disorder on the streets.

Chairman of the board Doug Garrett called for a “redoubling of efforts to calm tensions” and for continued dialogue between the community and police officers.

“Nothing is achieved without talking, and leadership is needed from all those with influence so that any concerns can be addressed through the democratic structures in place; and through the board mechanisms for policing oversight and accountability,” he said.

The Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled on Thursday morning for an emergency debate following days of violence.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland recommended prosecutions against deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and 23 others for alleged breaches of the regulations last year at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey, but the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced last week it will not pursue prosecutions.

The PPS pointed to police engagement with the funeral planners as one reason why any prosecution was likely to fail as well as the repeatedly changing and inconsistent nature of Stormont’s coronavirus regulations.

UK policing watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is to conduct a review of the PSNI’s handling of the policing of the funeral.

Mrs Foster blamed police commanders, accusing them of “facilitating” the funeral, and claiming the PPS report was “devastating”.

Justice Minister Naomi Long told RTE that it is “preposterous” that Mrs Foster “refuses” to meet Mr Byrne just weeks after she met the Loyalist Communities Council.

Mrs Foster dismissed the criticism as comparing two different things, and insisted the loyalist community must be heard.

She also insisted she stands with police officers but said she must “call out failure”.

“Police have my full support … there is no difficulty in supporting police, we support the rule of law, it’s actually because we support the rule of law that we are so perplexed by the decision of the PPS not to prosecute those who very clearly broke the law at the Bobby Storey funeral,” she told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

Mrs Foster said she believes the leadership of the PSNI has “compromised itself to a point where it needs to change”.

“I support all of those police officers who are having to deal with an outrageous couple of nights of violence and I stand foursquare with them but as a political leader and as a public representative I don’t just have a right to talk about these issues, I have a duty to call out things when they are not correct,” she said.

“As the leader of unionism it is my duty to call out failure when failure is very obvious.”

Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, voiced concern about the “lack of confidence that political leaders have in the chief constable”.

“The proper mechanism for that is the Policing Board, of which all political parties are represented.

“So they hired him two years ago and it’s up to them then to make the decision around that.

“Certainly our members are very disturbed around the political use of commentary that says the chief constable should resign,” he said.