Trouble flared in Lurgan and Craigavon last night hours after three men were jailed for a dissident republican plot to kill police officers with a mortar bomb.
Gangs of masked youths hijacked and then burnt out several vehicles in the Kilwilkie, Drumbeg and Meadowbank estates in an attempt to bring people out on to the streets and lure police into the areas.
Initially it was feared tensions could escalate after a small white van was hijacked and placed on railway lines before being set alight just after 6pm.
Shortly afterwards masked youths then hijacked a lorry and set it on fire near the Drumbeg estate — just metres from the spot where Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead by dissident republicans in March.
There were a number of reports that masked gunmen had been seen wandering the estates, although none of these could be verified.
And while the hijacking and burning of vehicles did force police to advise motorists to avoid the area and also caused disruption to rail services between Lisburn and Portadown, the gang’s attempts to create a full-scale riot and heated confrontation with police officers ultimately failed. Local SDLP MLA and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said the violence in Lurgan and Craigavon last night was utterly futile and achieved nothing except destruction and injury.
She said the trouble had been anticipated by the police and local community following the sentencing of Damien McKenna (26), of Deans Walk, Gary Toman (24), of Drumnahoe Avenue, and Sean McConville (23), of Kilwilkie Road, yesterday.
“It was very serious and highly organised, with stockpiling of petrol since yesterday,” she said.
“There were also reports that masked men were being seen in parts of the town.
“Three young men are beginning long prison sentences to absolutely no purpose whatsoever. What they were up to was futile just as the rioting is futile. It can achieve nothing positive for the community or for any political cause. It can only achieve destruction and injury or worse, and the waste of young lives.”
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd condemned last night’s violence, adding that the attempts to cause widespread rioting did nothing but harm their own communities.
“This appears to be an attempt to draw people on to the streets but thankfully it wasn’t overly successful,” he said.
“The police had been monitoring the situation and there was no confrontation between the youths and police at this stage.
“The attempts to cause rioting only harms the community in which it is taking place.”
He added that he thought the trouble appeared to be “linked to the sentencing” of the three men yesterday.
Meanwhile, police are investigating a claim that a device had been left at Palace Demesne in Armagh.
Nothing was found last night, although they have issued a warning to members of the public that in the event of noticing a suspect object in the area, they should not approach or touch it but should contact police immediately.