Loyalist protests which left hundreds of police injured risk running out of control, Northern Ireland’s top policeman warned today.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable Matt Baggott said rioting might damage key political talks this month aimed at resolving tensions over parading and flags.
He spoke as police said they had arrested 114 people in connection with serious violence that broke out during loyalist parades in north and east Belfast on July 12 and Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, warned that the area’s economic recovery could be harmed.
Northern Ireland has experienced one of the worst years of street disorder since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Just under 700 officers have been injured in the last year as they came under attack from petrol bombs, scaffolding, bricks and swords.
Mr Baggott said: “The protest is in danger of running out of control. It is important we give (US diplomat) Richard Haass every opportunity to do his work because that protest runs the risk of poisoning relationships. This protest can be dignified but at the moment everybody is a loser and possibly for a long time.”
Ms Villiers said foreign investors were put off when “scenes of violence”. “We are seeing some signs that the Northern Ireland economy is healing and Northern Ireland has a very strong record with inward investment, but it is harder to attract investors if they associate Northern Ireland with riots and violence,” she said.
Ms Villiers also said the painting over of a George Best mural in Belfast with an image of a paramilitary gunman was “sad”. “That does feel to me like a step backwards,” she said.