Loyalist paramilitary godfathers who "sit in the pubs" and encourage younger people to riot are to blame for the recent violence in north Belfast, police say.
Shots were fired and a variety of bombs thrown at police in the latest round of disturbances, which has left 13 officers injured. Yesterday, trouble broke out in the Ardoyne area, with stone throwing and reports of more gunfire.
The outbreaks have raised the prospect of another summer of disturbances in north Belfast. Although every summer is difficult, rioting has continued sporadically through the winter. In some areas, residents complain of disturbances of some sort almost every night. Continuing tension between Catholics and Protestants mean that even minor incidents can easily escalate into serious confrontations.
Wednesday's trouble centred on the loyalist Tiger Bay district, where Protestants frequently clash with nationalists from the nearby New Lodge area. The loyalist Ulster Defence Association appears to have attacked police with guns and bombs in what it regarded as retaliation for "heavy-handed" security force tactics in earlier clashes. The UDA has, in effect, been "off the reservation" for several years, having turned its back on the Good Friday Agreement and lost interest in developing a political party.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, who is in charge of policing, directly blamed the UDA. He said: "Over recent nights we have seen concerted attacks on us by loyalists orchestrated by the UDA. The UDA fired the shots. I have no doubt that this violence is inspired and organised by the UDA. The difficulty is that most of the people rioting last night were young people.
"Many of them had been brought in from outside and the difficulty is that the godfathers sit in the pubs and sit in their houses organising this and don't go out and do the dirty work themselves."
The Northern Ireland Office rejected a claim from the Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds that it had shown a lack of urgency in reacting to the disturbances and the question of installing more closed-circuit television cameras in the problem areas.
Denis Bradley, vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said officers were being placed in an almost impossible situation by the recurring violence. "When police are presented with this difficulty on a nightly basis there is a possibility and we mustn't dismiss the criticism from the community workers too quickly that perhaps some policemen have gone over the top," he said.
Northern Ireland's acting Chief Constable, Colin Cramphorn, addressing the Policing Board for the first time since succeeding Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said: "There doesn't seem to be any cause for optimism that the communities are able to move ahead together."
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