Lockdown closure of youth centres 'partly to blame for Northern Ireland violence'

6 April 2021, 21:01 | Updated: 6 April 2021, 21:35

Arlene Foster said the closure of youth centres has led to violence in Northern Ireland.
Arlene Foster said the closure of youth centres has led to violence in Northern Ireland. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

The closure of youth centres in the coronavirus lockdown is partly to blame for the disorder which has seen 41 officers injured in Northern Ireland, the First Minister has been told.

"Malign and criminal elements" are behind the violence, Arlene Foster said.

She called on young people to avoid violence and warned that she has been told the closures of youth centres are part of the cause by youth workers.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is due to be recalled for an emergency debate after dozens of police were injured since Friday.

Children as young as 12 have been involved in some of the violence in recent days.

Read more: How differently are UK countries leaving lockdown?

"I've asked the Executive to look at that urgently and to get those youth centres open immediately... so those youths can come off the streets and come away from some malign influences that are in our society," Mrs Foster added.

"I certainly think in a particular area of Northern Ireland that there are malign and criminal elements who are whipping up some of our young people."

Read more: Police attacked with petrol bombs during another night of riots in Northern Ireland

She added: "So I say to young people who are angry at this moment in time - do not get yourself a criminal record. It will blight your life for the rest of your life, you won't be able to go on holiday where you please to go.

"So please, please, desist from the violence. There is a better way and the way is through politics."

Police were attacked during another night of violence in a number of loyalist areas on Monday.

The most intense clashes were in Ballymena, when nine riot police officers were injured after they intervened in an unlawful march of loyalists through the town.

Arlene Foster has spoken out against the disorder in Northern Ireland.
Arlene Foster has spoken out against the disorder in Northern Ireland. Picture: PA

Debris, including a wheelie bin, was thrown onto the M2 motorway, forcing its closure.

Disorder also flared in parts of Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey and Derry on Monday, with petrol bombs and other missiles thrown at officers.

The violence comes amid soaring tensions within the loyalist community over post-Brexit trading arrangements, which have created new regulatory and customs barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Read more: Police in Northern Ireland attacked with stones after call to suspicious object

The decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during restrictions has also ramped up anger, and all the main unionist parties have demanded the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable Simon Byrne resign.

However, non-unionist parties in Northern Ireland have accused unionist leaders of creating the febrile atmosphere and stoking up tensions.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Superintendent Davy Beck said: "These are officers who leave their homes, put on their uniform and deserve to get home safe and well to their families.”