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Police urge 'people of influence' in Belfast to engage ahead of potential weekend of protests

The PSNI has called on those "in a place of influence" to engage with young people in west Belfast, ahead of a number of planned protests and band parades.

Speaking at a police press briefing on Friday in the wake of further violence on the streets of Belfast, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said community leaders and parents had a role in calming tensions and removing young people from the streets.

A further 19 police officers, as well as a police dog, were injured during rioting in the Springfield Road and Lanark Way areas of west Belfast.

Police were attacked with bottles and masonry and a police water cannon was deployed to drive crowds of rioters back.

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This was the seventh night of large-scale disorder across Northern Ireland and ACC Roberts made an appeal for those involved to "consider their actions", adding they would be reviewing police video footage alongside social media footage, to bring potential charges.

ACC Roberts also called on those "with influence" in communities to engage with young people.

"If you are in a place of influence, if you are a community leader or anyone in the community who can exert influence, please use it," he said.

"If you are a parent, please make sure you know where your young people are and please make sure your children are at home not on the streets where they can potentially get hurt or get caught up in circumstances that will change their lives forever.

"I would appeal to those who wish to engage in such activity not to. It serves no purpose. The police will continue to investigate those that engage in disorder and commit serious offences.

"Last night a further vehicle was hijacked. People can expect, if they are convicted of such crimes, to receive custodial sentences. It will change people’s lives forever, so please don’t engage in such activity.

"It is very difficult for police officers to maintain normality in such circumstances where crowds wish to attack them and the police are standing for long periods of time wearing heavy equipment.

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PSNI officers with riot shields line the Springfield road, during further unrest in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

PSNI officers with riot shields line the Springfield road, during further unrest in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

PSNI officers with riot shields line the Springfield road, during further unrest in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

"It is physically tiring and mentally tiring. I would ask people to think about that. Police officers are there to protect communities and to serve the public.

"There are young people and adults who are engaged in throwing petrol bombs and other missiles at police. That is so dangerous that easily somebody could receive very bad burn injuries or worse. "

On Friday, the Loyalist Communities Council - which speaks for loyalist paramilitary groups - said none of their associated groups were involved in recent violence in Northern Ireland.

ACC Roberts explained the PSNI do not believe that violence was orchestrated by these groups, but added that some people who have "connections to prescribed organisations" may have been present.

"It is our overall assessment that the violence that has taken place over the last few nights is not orchestrated by a group in the name of that group," he added.

"There are certainly people who have engaged with violence who are nothing to do with any illegal organisation and there are young people who have got involved in it.

"We feel that there are maybe some people who could have connection to prescribed organisations who have been present at the scenes of violence, but we don’t believe it has been sanctioned and organised by prescribed organisations."

Following the death of Prince Philip, a number of social media posts from loyalist groups have called off planned protests, including a group based in Newtownards and north Down, which wrote online that a protest had been scheduled for Friday evening would be postponed "as a mark of respect".

ACC Roberts reminded those behind what have been described as "peaceful protests" over the weekend, to be "mindful" of how quickly they can "turn to disorder".

"Peaceful actions are obviously to be welcomed. Peaceful protest is better than disorder," he added.

"I would also remind anybody who wishes to engage in protest that the emergency legislation in respect of the pandemic still remains active and that offences are committed potentially when gatherings occur."


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