The British and Irish governments on Thursday condemned a fresh spasm of violence in Northern Ireland involving petrol bombs, as the region’s lawmakers headed into emergency talks.
Protesters set fire to a bus in Belfast late on Wednesday, extending a week of rioting that commentators have linked to fury among the pro-UK community at economic disruption caused by Britain’s Brexit departure from the European Union.
Police said another seven officers were injured in the violence, on top of 41 others hurt in recent days, along with a press photographer and bus driver.
Gates were set alight on a “peace line” — walls separating pro-Irish nationalist and pro-UK unionist communities — as crowds threw petrol bombs over the wall.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter he was “deeply concerned”, remarks echoed by ministers on Thursday.
“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality,” Johnson said.
Irish premier Micheal Martin also condemned the days of unrest.
“The only way forward is to address issues of concern through peaceful and democratic means,” he said.
“Now is the time for the two governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm.”
‘This is vandalism’
The Northern Irish Assembly at Stormont was convening later Thursday in an emergency session after cutting short its Easter break.
First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism.”
Northern Ireland endured 30 years of sectarian conflict that killed 3,500 people.
Unionist paramilitaries, British security forces and armed nationalists — seeking to unite the territory with the Republic of Ireland — waged battle until a landmark peace deal in 1998.
The accord let unionists and nationalists coexist by blurring the status of the region, dissolving border checks with fellow European Union member Ireland.
But Britain’s shock Brexit vote in 2016 to quit the EU revived the need for border checks. A special “protocol” was agreed that shifted the controls away from the land border, but some unionists accuse London of selling them out.
There is also outrage among unionists after authorities decided not to prosecute leaders of nationalist party Sinn Fein for going to the funeral last year of a former paramilitary leader, which was attended by thousands in apparent breach of coronavirus restrictions.