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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accuses Boris Johnson of 'total disinterest' over loyalist disorder

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Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood (PA)

Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood (PA)

Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

PA

The wreckage of a Translink Metrobus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The wreckage of a Translink Metrobus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

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Leader of the SDLP Colum Eastwood (PA)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has accused the Prime Minister of showing “total disinterest” over loyalist violence.

The Foyle MP said Boris Johnson’s refusal to accept the impact of the Irish Sea border had contributed to the “toxic political environment”.

Mr Eastwood was speaking in the wake of days of disorder that saw loyalist rioters attack police.

On Wednesday evening further violence broke out after a bus was hijacked and police officers targeted during disorder at an interface area in west Belfast.

The incident prompted Mr Johnson to tweet that he was "deeply concerned" by the latest outbreak of violence here.

"Especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist. The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality," he wrote.

Belfast Telegraph photographer Kevin Scott had been subjected to a physical and verbal attack while attending the scenes at the Shankill Road area.

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Forty-one officers have been injured and the Assembly has been recalled from its Easter recess today to discuss the trouble.

“If this was happening in Durham or Leeds, there would be Cobra meetings, emergency resource allocations and senior politicians would be tripping over themselves to get involved. But when it’s Derry or Newtownabbey, the British Government appears happy to ignore it,” he said.

“It is a defining characteristic of Boris Johnson as a man and as a political leader that he creates maximum chaos and then steps away from the consequences. We saw it during the Brexit referendum campaign, we have seen it during his time in office, and the very real consequences are now playing out on the streets.

“It’s about time Boris Johnson came out of hiding and started taking some responsibility for the impact that his words and actions have.”

His comments came after UUP leader Steve Aiken said Arlene Foster was making a mistake by not engaging with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

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The wreckage of a Translink Metrobus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The wreckage of a Translink Metrobus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

The wreckage of a Translink Metrobus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Aiken said his party will continue to work with Mr Byrne, after the First Minister said she had not spoken to him in recent days despite the unrest.

Mr Aiken said he had “issues with the Chief Constable because of past actions and decisions, but that should not be the cause for us to refuse to engage”.

“He is the head of the PSNI and while he is in post we should continue to work with him and all his officers,” he said.

And Tony Blair’s former Downing Street chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell told the First Minister to “back off” after she reiterated her call for Mr Byrne to resign.

Mr Powell said turning to identity politics and violence was “playing with fire” and a “terrible mistake”.

“I think that politicians trying to second guess the police when they are making operational decisions is really a mistake,” he said.

“I hope that the First Minister will back off on this and allow the police to proceed with their job.”

Mrs Foster revealed she had not met with Mr Byrne and he had not sought to meet her.

She said anger in the unionist community had been caused by “deferential treatment” given to Sinn Fein over the Bobby Storey funeral and Mr Byrne had been warned about “specialised treatment for a political elite”.

“If I meet the Chief Constable I will simply repeat what I have said to him last Tuesday after the devastating report from the PPS. That he had lost the confidence of the unionist community and he should resign,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

Policing Board chair Doug Garrett called for “redoubling of efforts to calm tensions and for continued dialogue between the community and police officers at all levels of the PSNI”.

“Nothing is achieved without talking, and leadership is needed from all those with influence so that any concerns can be addressed through the democratic structures in place and through the board mechanisms for policing oversight and accountability,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph


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