Unionists have condemned an outburst of violence from a loyalist faction which the PSNI believes was sparked by its own efforts to crack down on the group’s criminality.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson and the UUP’s Roy Beggs, both representing East Antrim, hit out last night after a riot engulfed a neighbourhood in Larne, where police believe up to 40 masked men took to the streets to throw petrol bombs and erect a burning barricade.
The PSNI laid the blame with the South East Antrim faction of the UDA – a wing of the group long seen as separate from the mainstream organisation, and which has repeatedly engaged in violence in recent years, often linked to internal feuding.
Mid and East Antrim District Commander Superintendent Darrin Jones said members of the public were in put “grave danger”, with police acting as a “buffer” between rioters and civilians as disorder flared onWednesday night.
“We believe this incident followed some proactive activity by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force against some elements of South East Antrim UDA at the weekend,” he said.
Mr Wilson said: “We really can’t have a situation where a mob dictate when police take action somebody who they believe maybe has committed a crime... They can’t claim to have any kind of community support for it. This is purely out of their own criminal self-interest.”
Commander Jones said police came under “sustained attack” in Linn Road, which he dubbed a “quiet residential area”.
“They were faced with 30 to 40 masked men who, when police arrived, came under sustained attack from various missiles, bottles, bricks, fireworks – and we also believe petrol bombs were thrown,” he said.
They had to shield motorists who had been trying to shield drive along the street by putting an armoured Land Rover between them and the rioters.
“Putting people’s lives in danger because people were actually driving into a burning barricade – if someone had been seriously hurt last night, the ambulance could not have responded,” he said.
“My assessment is that this incident was orchestrated and carried out by a criminal gang going under the badge of the south east Antrim UDA.”
Extra police resources were present in the area on Thursday night.
Sammy Wilson said that a 250-plus home development is planned around where the violence flared and that just yesterday he met with investors in the project, which he said will hopefully involve both private and social homes.
“[The investors] are prepared to spend money in the area, which would benefit shops, schools, lift up the area,” he said, noting such projects require builders, security workers, and more.
“It’s put in jeopardy by people who act like this in a criminal way in the streets. It’s just mindboggling that people behave in this way – put lives in jeopardy, put livlihoods in jeopardy, and chase people away from their own locality.”
He added: “It’s not in relation to some terrible deed which has been done on their community, or some betrayal on their community.
“This is purely out of their own criminal self-interest.
“It certainly was directed at the police because of some grievance they had with the police.”
Roy Beggs, UUP MLA, said: “Local residents are being terrorised and limited public resources are being wasted.
“The question that has to be asked of the organised gang leaders responsible is, what do they believe that they will achieve from burning large numbers of wheelie bins and trying to create some form of no-go area?
“They are adversely affecting the local community and wasting ratepayers money.
“This lawlessness is making it even more apparent that the community must work with the PSNI directly.”
Following a previous outburst of UDA street violence in Carrickfergus in July 2016, which occurred on the very evening of a large parade in the town marking the 100th anniversary of the Somme, Mr Wilson said the disorder was an “insult” to the war dead.
The latest violence comes as unionists Province-wide get set to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the whole war on Sunday.
“I don’t even think they think about the timing of these things,” said Mr Wilson.