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Robinson blasted for criticism of senior officer after Twelfth violence

By Noel McAdam

First Minister Peter Robinson has been blasted for comments attacking a senior police officer who called for political leadership after scores of his officers were injured by rioters.

Public representatives also branded it “disgraceful” and “shameful” that the First and Deputy First Ministers waited for more than 15 hours before making any public comment about some of the worst violence seen in Northern Ireland for years.

More than 80 officers were injured during serious rioting in north and west Belfast on Sunday and again in the Ardoyne on July 12.

The toll of injured officers had clearly angered Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay when he appeared on BBC Radio yesterday and singled out the role of the two First Ministers.

He said: “There are individual politicians working very hard on this, but are we seeing the joined-up government, are we seeing in this, this morning, after a very difficult night, very damaging for Northern Ireland, these images beamed across the United Kingdom and perhaps wider, are we seeing the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister stepping out to condemn this?”

The trouble at Ardoyne began at around 7pm on Monday. A statement of condemnation from the First and Deputy First Ministers was released just before 3pm yesterday.

In it Mr Robinson condemned the violence before going on to criticise the comments of ACC Finlay, which he said he would be raising with Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

He said: “Both the Deputy First Minister and I have been, and will continue, to work for a resolution of the difficulties around parading.

“I am disappointed to hear some of the comments from ACC Finlay and look forward to meeting with the Chief Constable shortly to discuss the events of the last 48 hours and ACC Finlay's unhelpful and unacceptable remarks.”

But a number of public representatives expressed anger that the First Minister chose to criticise a police officer rather than concentrate on condemnation of the street rioting. SDLP Justice spokesman Alban Maginness said: “It is quite uncalled for, for the First Minister to attack a police officer who has acted courageously throughout the past number of nights trying to protect lives and property and his own men from this street violence.”

Party colleague and north Belfast councillor Nichola Mallon added: “The blame game won’t create a lasting resolution to the parading issue. Neither will the shameful wall of silence from the First and Deputy FM, nor the poisonous relationship between the two parties which control the Executive.”

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