PSNI should have intervened in New Lodge bonfire dispute earlier, days Gerry Adams
Police should have intervened earlier in a bonfire dispute that ended in violent clashes in a republican neighbourhood in Belfast, Gerry Adams has said.
The former Sinn Fein president attended a family fun day in the New Lodge on Saturday, two days after the police were forced to withdraw from the area having come under attack as they tried to support contractors in the removal of the illegal pyre.
Mr Adams branded those involved in the violence which saw three police officers injured as thugs and hooligans.
The bonfire was lit ahead of the anniversary of the introduction of the policy of internment without trial of suspected republican paramilitaries in 1971.
Police abandoned an operation to remove the structure before it was lit amid concerns innocent bystanders could be hurt in the disorder.
Trouble broke out in the area when armed officers attended the scene last Thursday. Police claim the violence was likely to have been orchestrated by dissident republicans.
Mr Adams insisted the bonfire was "nothing at all to do with internment" and said anyone who tried to portray the disorder as an act of republican resistance was talking "total nonsense".
He said: "The hooliganism needs to stop, the thuggery needs to stop and this community needs to be given breathing space."
Mr Adams said he understood the rationale police had given for withdrawing from the area last Thursday, given "public safety" issues were at play.
But he said the situation should never have reached that stage and the bonfire should not have been allowed to have been built in the first place.
"I think they should have come in at a different time and dismantled it," he said.
"I can understand the rationale they gave for having to withdraw.
"When you see wee bucks (youths) up on top of the bonfire, obviously they are all public safety issues.
"But it should never have got to this point. People here deserved to be policed properly on terms which would be acceptable.