Sinn Fein and the PSNI clashed today over claims the security forces were protecting informants in dissident republican groups.
Rioting last night in the Craigavon area of Co Armagh was today blamed on dissident republican groups opposed to the peace process.
But when senior Sinn Fein representative John O’Dowd claimed the dissident ringleaders were being protected by the security forces, police said the allegation was an insult.
The area has been blighted by outbreaks of rioting in recent months and Mr O’Dowd said the local community wanted the thugs off their back.
“The question the community is asking more and more is how these individuals continue to operate in the community with apparent immunity,” he said.
“There is a suggestion that some of them are involved in some level as informers or agents and if they are I would call for their immunity to be lifted immediately and for those people to be put through the judicial process.”
There were also unconfirmed reports that shots were fired, with speculation rife that the violence was aimed at drawing police into the area so dissidents could attack officers.
But PSNI Superintendent Alan McCrum denied the allegation that police hands were tied when it came to tackling those dissidents behind the Craigavon activity.
“I would categorically refute what has been said. Nobody is above the law. The police are not in any way protecting informers,” he said. “Police in Craigavon area are seeking to work with the community to get enough evidence and bring people before the courts.”
Fire crews and police officers came under attack during last night’s rioting. The incidences began just after 7pm when three masked men hijacked a bus at the Drumbeg roundabout in Craigavon. Passengers on the bus were ordered off by the gang.
Around 45 minutes later a van was hijacked on the nearby Old Portadown Road outside Lurgan.
A number of roads where the disturbances broke out, including Drumbeg roundabout, Old Portadown Road and Tandragee Road were closed today.
Mayor of Craigavon Borough Council, Sidney Anderson, said the disturbances were an attempt “to lure” police to an ambush.
The DUP councillor added: “Craigavon has moved on. We do not need this type of behaviour dragging us back into the past.”
Independent councillor for the area Mark Russell said: “This is a very difficult job for the police but they need to sit down and look at what they can do to reduce the risk to the public when this type of trouble kicks off. I know of a football team of a unionist background were passing the area at the time. What would have happened if their vehicle had been hijacked?”