Two nights of riot mayhem this week are a “wake-up call” for Northern Ireland, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has warned.
Speaking as First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pledged to work to try to prevent a repeat of the violence in east Belfast, the police chief spoke of his sadness that the province was taking “two steps forward and one step back”.
It is understood Mr Robinson yesterday met UVF leaders as part of efforts to maintain calm. After briefing the Policing Board on details of the flashpoint flare-up, Mr Baggott also claimed dialogue is key to avoiding a summer of trouble and tension.
He said: “We should recognise that in some places the peace is fragile and it's a wake-up call to us all to redouble our efforts to make Northern Ireland the safe, prosperous place everybody wants.”
With a senior civil servant tasked with investigating the problems in east Belfast, First Minister Peter Robinson said the focus was on avoiding a repeat of the chaos which damaged the reputation of the province in the week of golfer Rory McIlroy’s US Open triumph.
“Where there are genuine concerns, we want to help,” he said. “We represent and care about this whole community and we want to hear what it has to say.”
It is understood that around 100 people attended a heated public meeting last night in east Belfast to discuss the area’s problems.
Some criticised Mr Robinson and East Belfast MP Naomi Long for not appearing.
Mr McGuinness echoed the First Minister’s determination in vowing to “lead the charge against the force of destruction”.
He said: “I am heartened by the forces of positivity in every section of our community and that they will work with us to ensure we never see a repeat of these unacceptable scenes.”
Mr Baggott also confirmed police are investigating post-ceasefire activity by the UVF, which has been blamed for sparking the two nights of trouble.
The group has also been supported by its political advisers, the Progressive Unionist Party, in opposing a probe by the Historical Enquiries Team.
But rejecting claims of HET one-sidedness, Mr Baggott insisted: “I know there's a perception that somehow they are biased, but they absolutely are not.”
A second man has been arrested following the east Belfast riots.
Detectives questioned the 28-year-old from west Belfast yesterday.
Story so far
Monday — nationalist and loyalist crowds clash as masonry, petrol and paint bombs are hurled at police. Water cannons brought in. Two people injured by gunfire. Police blame UVF.
Tuesday — crowds gather at the same interface as masked youths attack police vehicles with sledgehammers. Press photographer shot in thigh by gunfire thought to have come from dissident republicans.
Wednesday — after hours of talks involving politicians, church and community leaders and paramilitary representatives, a senior official is appointed to initiate talks likely to lead to a ‘task force’ in the area.
He is the man with the power to bring hundreds of masked supporters onto the street overnight. It was his command that this week led to open warfare in east Belfast between loyalists and republicans armed with guns, petrol bombs and blast bombs.