Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has accused the DUP of feeding a narrative that has inflamed and encouraged recent violence on the streets of Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill pointed to the party’s boycott of north-south political meetings and its threat to pull down Stormont in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Sinn Fein vice president made the claims during Assembly question time as she commented on recent violent attacks in the region, the latest of which saw a bus hijacked and burned out on the loyalist Rathcoole estate on Sunday night.
Last Monday, another bus was burned in Newtownards in an attack linked to loyalist protocol opposition. Police were attacked in clashes at a community interface in west Belfast involving youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road/Lanark Way on two nights last week.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has roundly condemned the violence and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Ms O’Neill said his party was guilty of “reckless and damaging” rhetoric and called for an end to “sabre rattling” over the protocol.
“I think that all political leaders need to reflect very carefully on the impact of their words and indeed of their deeds,” she said.
“The burning of buses in Newtownards or Rathcoole and the threat to the bus drivers is absolutely irresponsible and it’s reckless.
“Some of the rhetoric that we’ve witnessed, particularly in relation to the protocol, is completely reckless.
“It’s dangerous and often bears no resemblance to the actual reality that we all face. So I think it’s utterly appalling that we now see that’s being translated, that dialling up of rhetoric, that dialling up of language, being translated into violence on our streets where we have seen these attacks on buses in the last number of weeks.
“And also I’m very conscious of the fact that there’s been a deliberate strategy to bring those tensions into interface areas and to raise and to heighten tensions even further.
“So that type of approach is both disgraceful and also unacceptable.
“So not only should the DUP be condemning this violence they should stop feeding the narrative that inflames it and indeed also even encourages it.
“I think that the unlawful boycott of the NSMC (North South Ministerial Council) is part of that. So, too, are the repeated threats to the institutions and the constant, constant incitement around the protocol.
“So I think that this is a time for responsible leadership and an end to the reckless and damaging rhetoric, but it’s also a time for calm and responsible leaders to step forward to reduce tensions and to ensure that there’s no further escalation of violence on our streets.”
Ms O’Neill added: “There can be no going back, and I think what we need today is calm and steady leadership, and what we need today is less of the sabre-rattling and more political leadership whenever it comes to ensuring that this type of activity is not on our streets.”
Earlier, Sir Jeffrey said the violence was “totally unacceptable”.
“It serves no purpose whatsoever and we want to see those responsible for violence on our streets, whether it’s in Rathcoole, in Newtownards, or on Lanark Way, brought before the courts because in the end this is criminal behaviour,” he told reporters at Stormont.
“It is unacceptable. It does nothing to advance any cause whatsoever, never mind opposition to the protocol.
“And we are very clear that politics is the only way we’re going to resolve these issues.
“It will not be through violence or the threat of violence.”