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Stormont recalled as Northern Ireland faces ‘summer of disruption’

Power-sharing executive meets as police water cannon returns to Belfast streets

Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive has said it is “united behind law and order” after a seventh night of “deplorable” violence on the streets of Belfast.

On Thursday, the executive was recalled to Stormont and briefed on ongoing disturbances after a bus was torched in an area of Belfast where nationalist and unionist communities border one another.

Disorder continued in Belfast last night, with police deploying water cannon – “the first time in six years they have done so in a riot situation”, reports the BBC

“Hundreds” of young people gathered in the Springfield Road area of Belfast, the border between loyalist and nationalist communities, and were seen to be “throwing fireworks at Land Rovers”, the BBC’s Maria McCann says. 

On Wednesday evening, footage circulated on Twitter that appeared to show a bus “being petrol bombed while still moving”, surrounded by dozens of masked people, “including some who seemed to be children”, The Guardian adds.

Jonathan Roberts, assistant chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), initially said it was likely unionist paramilitary groups were involved in the disorder, but the PSNI now say there is “no evidence of UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] organisational involvement”, according to the BBC.

All of the main political parties in Northern Ireland have criticised the disorder “but they are divided over its causes”, the broadcaster adds. 

Many have pointed to Loyalist groups, who have held a series of parades as part of ongoing protests that are “linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol and a decision not to prosecute and Sinn Fein representatives who attended Bobby Storey’s funeral last year”, reports The Irish News

Loyalists are expected to hold further parades across Northern Ireland on Friday night “in an act of ‘civil disobedience’ intended to stretch police resources”, says the Belfast Telegraph

The paper says a “summer of disruption” is looming. Violent scenes, including attacks on police, petrol bombings, rioting, and the assault of a journalist have been seen on the streets of Belfast and Londonderry, with loyalist and unionist groups clashing at ‘peace line’ roads.

First minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted on Thursday: “These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Fein.”

But Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, told RTE Radio 1 that the tweet from the first minister was “not helpful” and called all political leaders to help diffuse tensions, The Irish Times reports. “This needs to stop before someone is killed. That has to start at the top in terms of political leadership,” he said.

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