Violence which followed the jailing of three dissident republicans for plotting to kill police officers in the North was branded a disgrace today.
More than five vehicles were hijacked and police said they received numerous reports of armed men on the streets of Lurgan, Co Armagh, in what they said was clearly pre-planned and orchestrated violence.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said those involved in the violence were a disgrace.
“Once again, our country is caught in the spotlight of reckless public disorder and needless disruption,” they said.
There were disturbances in the Kilwilkie estate and neighbouring Meandowbrook and Drumbeg areas last night, forcing police to urge motorists to stay away from the area.
Hours earlier, at Belfast Crown Court, three men were sentenced to 15 years in jail.
A live mortar, complete with launching tube, was found near the Cornakinnegar Road on April 5, 2007.
Damien McKenna, 26, of Deans Walk, Gary Toman, 24, of Drumnahoe Avenue, and Sean McConville, 23, of Kilwilkie Road, all in Lurgan, pleaded guilty. Police said they believed the men were members of the Continuity IRA.
Condemning the violent reaction to the jailings, Chief Inspector Jason Murphy said: “Let’s be clear where the blame lies here. It lies with those who took to the streets, hijacked cars and helped orchestrate this violence, causing nothing but fear and disruption within their own community.
“This was obviously an attempt to draw my officers into the situation to escalate the violence and to cause serious disruption or injury.”
He said the actions of criminals would not deter his officers from providing a service to the people of Lurgan.
He said an investigation into the violence and disorder had been launched and police were seeking to bring those responsible to justice.
“Police received numerous reports of armed gunmen in the area last night and while there are no reports of any shots being fired, this is not acceptable behaviour for our streets and robust action will be taken,” said Mr Murphy.
There were no reports of any petrol bombs being thrown during the trouble and no injuries reported, said police.
Dolores Kelly, an SDLP member at the Northern Ireland Assembly and a representative of the area, said the violence was utterly futile and could achieve nothing except destruction and injury or worse.
She said: “The trouble was anticipated by both police and the community, given the sentencing of three men for dissident crimes earlier today. It is very serious and highly organised, with stockpiling of petrol.
“My main concern is for the young people who are getting caught up in rioting. I would ask them – and more particularly their parents – to reflect on what is happening here.”
Three young men had begun long prison sentences to absolutely no purpose whatsoever, she said.
“What they were up to was futile, just as the rioting is futile. It can achieve nothing positive for the community or for any political cause. It can only achieve destruction and injury or worse, and the waste of young lives.”