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Police blast rioters with water cannon as violence flares again in Northern Ireland

Stones and fireworks were thrown at police by gangs of youths in west Belfast this evening.

The PSNI using a water cannon in west Belfast this evening.
The PSNI using a water cannon in west Belfast this evening.
Image: PA

Updated Apr 8th 2021, 9:46 PM

RIOTERS HAVE BEEN blasted with a water cannon by police as unrest stirred on the streets of Northern Ireland once more this evening.

After incidents last night provoked calls for calm, violence again flared up on the streets of west Belfast, amid rising tensions in the area.

Stones and fireworks were thrown at police by gangs of youths gathered on the nationalist Springfield Road, close to where last night’s riots took place.

Those involved were warned by police to “disperse immediately or the water cannon will be used”.

However, those present continued to fire missiles at police and after several warnings, the water cannon was deployed. Some of those present jeered before fleeing as the water jet came closer.

Later in the evening, there were reports that police warned crowds “impact rounds will be fired”.

Impact rounds, also known as AEPs or plastic bullets, are not used as a means of crowd control in any part of the UK apart from Northern Ireland, and their use has been condemned by human rights groups.

Six plastic bullets were fired by police during last night’s events.

Last night, a bus was hijacked and set on fire in west Belfast, a press photographer was assaulted, and there were clashes between loyalists and nationalists at the peace line street that links the Shankill Road with the Springfield Road.

britain-northern-ireland-unrest The remnants of a burnt out bus in Belfast today. Source: AP/PA Images

Justice Minister Naomi Long issued a fresh call for calm after what she called “depressing and reckless” scenes.

She tweeted: “More attacks on police, this time from nationalist youths. Utterly reckless and depressing to see more violence at interface areas tonight.

My heart goes out to those living in the area who are living with this fear and disturbance. This needs to stop now before lives are lost.

A heavy police presence was in operation tonight, with water cannon, police dogs and the riot squad in place in a bid to quell another night of unrest in the area.

PSNI officers were seen holding riot shields and being pelted with missiles before causing the youths to flee by charging at them with dogs.

Earlier this evening, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister discussed the “concerning developments” in Northern Ireland.

The government said in a statement this evening that Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson “called for calm” and stressed that “violence is unacceptable”. 

“The way forward is through dialogue and working the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” the statement said. 

They agreed that the two Governments would continue to stay in contact.

northern-ireland-unrest PSNI officers with riot shields on the Springfield Road in Belfast this evening. Source: PA

The Biden administration in the US also appealed for calm in Northern Ireland and voiced its support for the Brexit protocol.

At a briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “We are concerned by the violence in Northern Ireland and we join the British, Irish and Northern Irish leaders in their calls for calm.

“We remain steadfast supporters of a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all communities have a voice and enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace.

“We welcome the provisions in both the EU-UK trade cooperation agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol, which helped protect the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

The Northern Ireland Executive met this morning to be briefed on the ongoing unrest and Stormont has also condemned the violence. 

In a joint statement, the five-party Executive said: “While our political positions are very different on many issues, we are all united in our support for law and order and we collectively state our support for policing and for the police officers who have been putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others.

“We, and our departments, will continue to work together to maximise the support we can give to communities and the PSNI to prevent further violence and unrest.”

northern-ireland-unrest Youths throwing fireworks at the PSNI on the Springfield Road in Belfast this evening. Source: PA

The Stormont Assembly was recalled from Easter recess for an emergency sitting following a motion calling for MLAs to unequivocally condemn those involved and support the rule of law.

Before the events of last night, some 41 police officers had been injured and ten people arrested over the disturbances – including as young as 12.

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PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said this afternoon the figure had risen to 55 after last night’s violence. 

He said that the injuries sustained by police were “on the whole relatively minor” but that this was “very lucky” given the “large items of masonry, fireworks and petrol bombs”.

“The scale of the disorder last night was at a scale that we have not seen in recent years in Belfast or further afield. And the fact that it was sectarian violence, and there was large groups on both sides of the incident again it’s something that we have not seen for a number of years,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said last night that the “attacks on a journalist and bus driver are deeply concerning and are in no one’s interests. Now is the time for the two governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm”.

The PSNI are appealing for information about the incidents involving the photographer and the bus.

“We would appeal to anyone who may have witnessed either of these incidents or who may have captured footage on their mobile phone to get in touch. We would also appeal for anyone who was a passenger on the bus to come forward,” it said.

- Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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