A new generation in the North is being blooded in sectarian hatred, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said today.
In the aftermath of the worst loyalist rioting for several years, Mr Ahern claimed the mayhem was deliberately orchestrated to intimidate nationalists who now feared for the future.
He strongly urged people with influence to unequivocally condemn the violence and work towards building bridges between communities.
Mr Ahern, who visited Belfast last week, said the SDLP and Sinn Féin had been concerned about potential violence after the Orange Order’s Whiterock March was re-routed away from a nationalist area by the Parades Commission.
“It’s an extremely worrying turn of events,” he said today.
“What happened last night was a huge effort to intimidate nationalist communities, who fear very much for the future.
“What we really don’t need at this moment in time is more incitement.”
Tensions remained high across Northern Ireland after the violence, which erupted in west Belfast and then spread to the north and east of the city as well as to Ballymena, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Larne, Ballyclare, Glengormley and Ahoghill.
Paramilitary gunmen opened fire on police and soldiers and cars were being hijacked and set alight so regularly that roads were closed and motorists urged to stay at home.
Mr Ahern, who said he will be fully briefed on the rioting by his officials tomorrow, said evidence that children as young as five years old getting involved in violence did not augur well for the future.
“Children and teenagers are becoming brutalised by involving themselves in these riots. A new generation is being blooded in sectarian hatred.
“A new generation is being spawned by this type of incitement,” he told RTÉ Radio.
He said it was a positive development that some parents of children involved in violence were bringing them to be spoken to by the PSNI.
Mr Ahern said he had no doubt that the riots were an orchestrated event.
He said that PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde’s comments that the Orange Order must shoulder substantial blame for the violence should be heeded.
“He has an incredible impartiality and for him to say something like this, somebody who was on the ground, what he says has to be taken seriously.
The Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Sean Brady said he was very distressed to hear of the rioting and urged community leaders to restore calm.
“I was very distressed and certainly worried to hear of these developments.
“I hope that common sense and reason can prevail.
“The safety of people and the security of their property is being severely threatened.”
Dr Brady, the Primate of All-Ireland, added: “I hope that calm will be restored to these communities by community leaders engaging in constructive talks.”