It’s time to engage seriously on issue of sectarian riots: PSNI chief
Chief Constable Matt Baggott has warned that Northern Ireland cannot afford a repeat of the sectarian riots in north Belfast that left almost 50 police officers injured.
As loyalists and republicans continue to blame each other for the eruption of serious disorder on Sunday, Mr Baggott said that while the PSNI will continue to act as peacekeepers and keep communities safe, others have a responsibility within the community and wider society to resolve the conflict surrounding parades.
“Policing and the wider Northern Ireland community cannot afford a repeat of (Sunday’s) events,” he said.
“This is a distraction for my officers who want to be engaged in policing the real issues that matter to communities — such as reducing the harm caused by drugs, protecting older people and reducing burglary.
“All of us in civic society need to engage seriously on these issues before they result in further unacceptable violence being displayed against my officers,” the Chief Constable added.
The PSNI said that 47 officers were injured during the clashes. Four needed hospital treatment.
PSNI Chief Superintendent George Clarke blamed loyalists for starting the trouble.
He said that the disorder had been organised, but refused to say if he believed the UVF had been responsible.
“I am both angry and sad that my officers have been subjected to such significant attack. They showed tremendous courage in the face of enduring violence.
He said that “savage violence” had been used against police officers “who on a Sunday afternoon went out to deliver policing on behalf of this community to police a lawful parade... and to keep people safe”.
There are fears of further trouble in the area at the end of this month when thousands of loyalists are scheduled to pass St Patrick's church in Donegall Street on September 29.
Trouble broke out the previous weekend in the area when loyalists defied a ban on their bands playing songs as they filed past the church.
Mr Clarke said there is no doubt that there are tensions and difficulties within the community, but urged all those affected by recent events “to take a step back”.
“Violence has serious and unwanted consequences for us all,” he said.
“Look back calmly at what happened last night and ask ourselves — as a community — is that how we want the reputation of the city to go around the world? Is that how we want to deal with our frustrations? Is that how we want to spend police officers’ time, what we want to do with their lives?” he added.
Footage taken from the police helicopter and CCTV cameras are being scrutinised to identify those involved. Mr Clarke said people would be held to account for their actions.