Water cannon blasts Belfast rioters as US president calls for calm

#Brexit special section Beyond England In the media

Police used water cannon on rioters, and charged them with dogs, in Belfast last night (Thursday) after Joe Biden intervened to call for calm following a week of violence in Northern Ireland.

The US president joined prime minister Boris Johnson and taoiseach Micheál Martin in trying to still the violence that saw “as many as 600 people” involved in disturbances in Belfast on Wednesday night.

Twenty-four hours later and water cannon blasted youths throwing stones and fireworks at police on the nationalist Springfield Road.  The PA later reported that PSNI officers forced the youths pelting them with missiles to flee after charging at the youths with dogs. A heavy police presence was deployed following nights of violence in loyalist communities across Northern Ireland.

PSNI assistant chief constable Jonathan Roberts said the violence is on “a scale that we have not seen in recent years in Belfast or further afield,” and that the violence appeared to be pre-planned.

Biden – ‘GFA cannot become a casualty of Brexit’

The US president’s press secretary Jen Psaki said: “We are concerned by the violence in Northern Ireland”. A statement from the White House said that Biden remains “steadfast” in his support for a “secure and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all communities have a voice and enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace”.

Biden’s “unequivocal” support for the Good Friday Agreement has long been iterated and the US president has warned it cannot be allowed to “become a casualty of Brexit”.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border,” said Biden last year.

‘A miracle that no-one has been killed’, says O’Neill

The riots and violence been condemned by the Northern Ireland Executive who released a joint statement from the first and deputy first ministers that said they are “gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets over the last week, including those at the Lanark Way interface last night.”

The interface is at a peace line in West Belfast between loyalist and republican communities, where a gate is closed every night to keep them apart. It came under attack last night and was forced open after being rammed by hijacked cars, before police struggled to batter it shut again.

Arlene Foster, the first minister and leader of the DUP said the violence is “totally unacceptable” while Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, deputy first minister said it is a “miracle” that “no-one has been killed”.

The Executive’s statement said the attacks on police officers, public services and communities “are deplorable and they must stop.

“Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities.”

‘Grossly irresponsible’ to blame Brexit for violence, says Lord Caine

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis arrived in Belfast on Thursday to hold talks with the main political parties after the PM called for dialogue to resolve the differences.

Lewis admitted Brexit has created “real issues” but said violence – which has left 55 police officers injured and involved children as young as 12 – “is not acceptable”.

“The way to deal with these things is through a democratic and diplomatic, political process,” Lewis told the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont House.

“There is no legitimisation of violence to deal with any of those issues. It doesn’t serve anyone’s cause whatever their concern is on any given issue.”

Elsewhere, Lord Caine – the government’s former top adviser on Northern Ireland – said it is “grossly irresponsible” to blame Brexit for loyalists rioting.

Caine, a special advisor to six Northern Ireland secretaries of state, said that while the fallout from Brexit has contributed to unionist anger, darker forces were clearly at work.

“It’s irresponsible and it betrays a wilful ignorance of Northern Irish politics,” to suggest otherwise, said Caine adding: “It’s not just about politics, it’s about people who run criminal empires and who seek to exert influence and control over communities.”

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