Unrest in Newtownabbey amid fears of another night of violence in NI

Michelle Devane, PA
·6-min read

Disturbances have broken out on the streets in Newtownabbey amid fears there may be another night of trouble ahead in Northern Ireland.

Three cars were hijacked and set on fire in the loyalist O’Neill/Doagh Road area on Saturday evening.

A large crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the unrest.

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Police said on Saturday evening that they were responding following reports of disorder at the Cloughfern roundabout in the O’Neill’s Road area of Newtownabbey.

Video footage has emerged of cars being burned out and a police van being targeted.

The PSNI has appealed for calm in the area and asked anyone with any influence in the community to try to ensure young people do not get caught up in criminality.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has called for an end of the violence, saying people destroying their own communities is “not the way to protest or vent”.

It comes after eight people were arrested and 27 police officers injured during riots in Belfast and Londonderry on Friday night.

Fifteen officers were injured in Belfast, while 12 officers were hurt in Derry after being targeted by mainly young people.

Derry City and Strabane Area Commander Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said police received reports on Friday night of youths gathering in the areas of Nelson Drive and Tullyally in the city.

“On their arrival, they came under sustained attack from a large group of youths and young adults throwing masonry, bottles, petrol bombs and fireworks,” he said.

“As a result 12 officers sustained injuries including head, leg and foot wounds.”

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Mr Jones also said a care home was damaged in the Nelson Drive area during the trouble causing “untold fear and distress” to residents.

He said it was “totally unacceptable” that Friday was the fifth successive night of disturbances in the unionist Waterside area of the city.

“It is vital that we all send out a message to those responsible that such behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.

“The people of Derry/Londonderry deserve to feel safe within their own homes and be able to walk the streets without fear.

“I would ask that anyone who has any influence in communities – whether parents, guardians, community or elected representatives – please, use that influence to ensure young people do not get caught up in criminality and that they are kept safe and away from harm.”

Northern Ireland unrest
Rioters clash with police (Donal Collins/PA)

In Belfast, two boys, aged 13 and 14, were among eight people arrested in connection with riots in a loyalist area of Belfast on Friday night.

Police said on Saturday night that seven people including three teenage boys have been charged with riot over the Sandy Row disturbances.

Four adults – three men, aged 25, 21 and 18 years old, and a woman, aged 19 – are due to appear at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on April 30.

Three teenagers, aged 17, 14 and 13, are due to appear at Belfast Youth Court on the same date.

Police said 15 officers were injured on Friday night after being targeted by a crowd of mainly young people in Sandy Row, throwing stones, fireworks, flares, manhole covers and petrol bombs.

Belfast District Commander, Chief Superintendent Simon Walls, said “a small local protest quickly developed into an attack on police officers” and that at points there were up to 300 people of all ages on the streets.

He called for calm, urging anyone with influence in the loyalist community to dissuade young people from causing violence and harm.

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Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the unrest as completely unacceptable (Donal Collins/PA)

He said: “I’m not going to enter into dialogue about political commentary.

“What I would ask is that people with influence, people in local communities, would dissuade young people, or anyone else, intent on causing violence or intent on harming police officers.”

He described it as a “real tragedy” that children as young as 13 and 14 were among those arrested.

“I think it’s a tragedy that any child in Northern Ireland is sitting in a custody suite this morning and facing criminal investigation, possibility of being charged and possibility of facing a criminal conviction,” he said.

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Police have appealed for calm (Donal Collins/PA)

“It shouldn’t happen. And that’s why I’m very keen that people with influence try to ask anyone intent on violence to please step back. It’s not the way to resolve tensions or arguments.”

Political leaders have also called for calm over the Easter weekend following the riots.

Stormont’s First Minister Arlene Foster urged young people “not to get drawn into disorder”, saying violence “will not make things better”.

The DUP leader said: “I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better.

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“And I send my strong support to all of the rank-and-file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend.

“I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives.

“I also ask parents to play their part and be proactive in protecting their young adults.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the unrest as “completely unacceptable”.

Northern Ireland unrest
Eight people have been arrested (Donal Collins/PA)

Mr Lewis said: “Violence is never the answer. There is no place for it in society.

“It is unwanted, unwarranted and I fully support the PSNI appeal for calm.”

He added that his thoughts were with the officers injured.

The disorder has flared amid ongoing tensions within loyalism across Northern Ireland.

Loyalists and unionists are angry about post-Brexit trading arrangements which they claim have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Tensions ramped up further this week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.

All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.