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A colour party in the Creggan area of Derry Alamy
easter monday

Journalists targeted by 'disturbing' petrol bomb attacks at dissident march in Derry

The National Union of Journalists has condemned the attacks on the media, calling it “completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing”.

ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS and photographers with petrol bombs at an Easter parade in Derry yesterday have been branded “disturbing”, as police launch an investigation into the incident.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has confirmed it is investigating the use of petrol bombs at a dissident parade in the Creggan area of Derry yesterday on Easter Monday, where several members of the press were present to report on the event.

A photographer who spoke to The Journal has recounted how media bundled into a car and tried to escape from the area as petrol bombs were thrown by masked assailants after the parade, which is held every year to mark the 1916 Easter Rising.

The National Union of Journalists has condemned the attacks on the media, calling it “completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing”.

The incident occurred just two weeks before the fifth anniversary of the death of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot and killed at the age of 29 during riots in the Creggan area.

The PSNI has said that around 80 parades took place around Northern Ireland over Easter and that the vast majority of them were peaceful.

However, “what we saw unfold in Creggan on Easter Monday, in particular the attacks on journalists, was extremely disappointing and completely unnecessary”, Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said in a statement. 

Visuals Editor for the Belfast Telegraph Kevin Scott has outlined that media were accepted at the parade yesterday at first, as they have been in previous years, but that the situation turned dangerous later in the afternoon.

Scott and other members of the press gathered near Central Drive before the parade began around 2pm. 

“At that stage, there was a number of masked youths who had gathered where the colour party were getting ready at the shops on Central Drive, which is in the middle of the Creggan estate, not far from the cemetery where they walk to,” Scott said, speaking to The Journal.

While they were there, the youths started to throw fireworks and missiles over towards us, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. They usually do that just to mess you about a wee bit.

The parade commenced and journalists followed its route to report on the events.

One key difference from previous years was that the PSNI were not present on the ground.

Previously, the PSNI have alerted participants that the event was an “unnotified” parade with a sign on a parked vehicle that has then been targeted by dissidents.

However, this year, a drone was flown over the parade instead with a speaker that communicated the message about the parade being unnotified.

“It meant that the police didn’t have to come into the area. In doing so, it allowed the parade to go freely to the cemetery. Inside, they did the usual speeches and everything else at the grave side. We were still fine,” Scott outlined.

“At that point, just as they were leaving as usual again, we were told not to record anything from here. That was as the colour party leave; they change their uniform behind the building in the cemetery and then usually go to cars that are waiting and they speed off into the estate and out of the place at that point,” he said.

“We usually gather at the roundabout, which we did on this occasion, and the police would usually show up because they begin to chase the cars and stop them and try to make arrests,” he said, adding that the police were not present at that position this year.

a-group-of-young-men-carrying-petrol-bombs-and-stones-at-the-start-of-an-easter-monday-parade-in-the-creggan-area-of-londonderry-commemorating-the-anniversary-of-the-easter-rising-rebellion-of-1916 Petrol bombs and stones being carried at the start of the parade Alamy Alamy

Media were chased with petrol bombs

Scott recounted that the “crowd of youths were sitting there with probably around 140 to 150 petrol bombs – pre-made bricks, bottles and stones”, and that they began to target the media.

“A number of us had made our way back towards our cars, which were parked close to the roundabout. At that point, two masked men approached one of the photographers and started to chase him,” Scott said.

“That’s when a number of other masked men decided to start chasing other reporters that were making their way to their cars. A petrol bomb was then thrown at a journalist’s car as they sped off through the estate.

“A number of us managed to bundle into my car, and as we were driving down the street, there was a child – he must have been about nine years old – with a lit petrol bomb running after another press photographer who was zigzagging between parked cars to get away from him.

“We managed to get our car stopped and get him [the photographer] bundled into it before speeding off. We were also made aware that another journalist at the bottom of the road was chased by youths who threw a petrol bomb at his feet as he was running from them.”

Scott said the PSNI are in a “difficult position” and that sending officers into the area puts them at risk but added that he believes the police should now conduct a “rigorous” investigation into the attacks on the media.

‘It’s important to document and photograph’

National Union of Journalists Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley is concerned about the prospect of attempts by dissidents to try to force journalists not to work in the Creggan area.

He is also concerned that photographers in particular are easily identifiable by their equipment and are at particular risk.

Dooley said what happened yesterday is “very worrying” and that it appears some of the photographers may have been specifically targeted. 

“It is important that these public events [like the parade] are recorded,” the trade union official said.

“One of the photographers was told to get out of the Creggan and stay out of the Creggan,” Dooley said, which he called “disturbing”.

“We don’t accept that any area can be a no go area for the media,” he added.

“One of the many of the images coming out of it are of young lads carrying petrol bombs. It is important that that trend is documented and photographed. That an area like Creggan would become a no-go area for journalists would be extremely unhealthy for democracy.”