Northern Ireland Secretary says he has 'absolute confidence' in PSNI amid violence

8 April 2021, 20:24 | Updated: 9 April 2021, 01:08

By Will Taylor

The UK's Northern Ireland Secretary has "absolute confidence" in the country's police service after days of riots and disorder.

Brandon Lewis condemned the scenes across the country to LBC, which have left more than 50 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers with injuries, as "pure criminality, thuggery and hooliganism".

Triggers including anger in unionist communities at the decision not to prosecute over a republican funeral gathering and the Brexit trade deal have been put forward.

The funeral last year, for IRA leader Bobby Storey, was attended by more than 2,000 people and unionist politicians demanded 24 Sinn Fein politicians have action taken against them for it.

That decision not to prosecute was taken partially because police engaged with organisers before the event.

Read more: Northern Ireland - why has violence broken out and what is being done?

Disorder has broken out in communities across Northern Ireland
Disorder has broken out in communities across Northern Ireland. Picture: PA

First Minister Arlene Foster called for the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign over it.

Speaking to LBC's Iain Dale, the Conservative MP said: “I have absolute confidence in the PSNI and the chief constable and they're working absolutely flat out.

"Those police officers… when they leave home every day they're doing that to work to keep people safe.

"I want to see them focused on fighting crime and solving crime, not being distracted by thuggery and hooliganism as they've had to be over the last few days, which is possibly, as the PSNI themselves have said, partly because of their success against some of these criminal gangs."

He added that Northern Ireland needs to see "stability and peace".

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said the scale of the disorder has not been seen for several years.

Children as young as 12 have been reported as taking part, with disruptions taking place in Belfast, Derry, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Ballymena.

Read more: Angry caller tears into Brexit amid disturbances in Northern Ireland

Much has occurred in loyalist areas though republican areas have also seen disorder.

On Wednesday, youths on either side of a west Belfast peace line threw petrol bombs and missiles at each other while a bus, without passengers, was hijacked and set on fire.

A press photographer was also attacked.

Issues with the trade border in the Irish Sea have also upset unionists.

Paramilitaries have been suspected of helping to orchestrate the riots.

Previously, the PSNI said paramilitary involvement in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus is more to do with a rogue faction, the South East Antrim UDA, reacting to police operations against it.

Mr Lewis added: "We shouldn't accept the premise violence is a response to any particular issue, there is nothing that legitimises what we've seen over the last few of days, it's pure criminality, thuggery and hooliganism."

Boris Johnson has condemned the violence and called for dialogue, while Northern Ireland's Executive branded the scenes as "deplorable" and called for disorder to stop.