THE North’s first minister and deputy first minister have hit out at those behind 48 hours of rioting and defended their political efforts to ease tensions over controversial parades.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) assistant chief constable, Alistair Finlay, yesterday singled out first minister, Peter Robinson, and deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, for criticism after violence surrounding Orange Order marches left 82 officers injured.
Chief constable, Matt Baggott, blamed dissident republicans for fomenting tensions that reached a height in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast last night, where police came under attack and eventually used baton rounds and water canons to contain rioters.
He declined to single out individual politicians for criticism over the issue but called for a “big debate” on the way forward.
Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness later issued a joint statement condemning the violence and highlighted their efforts to secure a lasting solution to tensions over controversial marches.
DUP leader Mr Robinson said: “I am disgusted at the outright thuggery and vandalism that has taken place over the course of the last 48 hours.
“There is no excuse and no place for violence in civilised society. Both the deputy first minister and I have been, and will continue, to work for a resolution of the difficulties around parading.”
Mr McGuinness said: “Our experience demonstrates that the way to deal with any disputes or contention is through dialogue and agreement…
“We are currently consulting on legislation that aims to provide a workable framework for dealing with contentious parades.”
Mr Robinson added: “I am disappointed to hear some of the comments from ACC Finlay and look forward to meeting with the chief constable shortly to discuss the events of the last 48 hours and ACC Finlay’s unhelpful and unacceptable remarks.”
Yesterday, there were disturbances in a number of areas including parts of Belfast, in Lurgan, Co Armagh, and in Derry, where a masked man shot at a police vehicle. No officers were injured.
In Lurgan, rioters stopped the Belfast to Dublin train and tried to set fire to it. The driver managed to restart the train and leave the scene before any of the 55 passengers were injured.
Dramatic footage captured from a police helicopter showed how officers came under frenzied attack in Ardoyne. In the most serious incident, a police officer had a concrete block hurled on to her head. She remains stable in hospital.
Mr Baggott said that the violence would cost millions of pounds.
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