A bus was set on fire with petrol bombs in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland last night, on a sixth consecutive night of unrest in the city.
The bus was set alight at an area intersecting loyalist and Republican communities. It was one of many incidents during several hours of rioting.
Public transport provider Translink said the bus driver whose bus was attacked was “very shaken by the incident but is physically unhurt”.
The gates of a peace wall – a barrier separating the predominantly loyalist community near Shankhill Road of from the Republican community of Springfield Road in Lanark Way – were opened leading to clashes. Hundreds of people gathered either side of the wall and petrol bombs were thrown between the two sides.
A photojournalist working for the Belfast Telegraph newspaper was also assaulted by two masked men, subjected to sectarian abuse and had his camera destroyed.
The Police Federation said at least seven officers were injured in the disorder.
Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “deeply concerned by the scenes”.
Last night's riots follow several days of unrest in Belfast's loyalist communities, which have been angered by the Northern Ireland protocol – a mechanism implemented because of Brexit.
Northern Ireland stayed in the EU’s single market after Brexit, and so the protocol effectively creates a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in order to implement customs checks. This was done to avoid creating a border on the island of Ireland, which would go against the Good Friday Agreement which brought years of fighting between loyalists and Republicans to an end. But the creation of a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is a huge concern to loyalists.
Loyalists have also been angered by the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians for attending the funeral of a senior Republican figure during a coronavirus lockdown last year.
The funeral of Bobby Storey, who is considered to have been the IRA’s head of intelligence in the 1990s, was held in June 2020. Critics said that social distancing was not maintained by crowds lining the streets as the hearse drove by. It was attended by senior Sinn Fein politicians, which was seen to undermine Stormont’s coronavirus messaging.
Last week, PSNI decided not to prosecute the politicians, leading to allegations of “two-tier” policing from loyalists, which PSNI denies.
According to reports, paramilitary group the South East Antrim UDA have harnessed legitimate loyalist anger to orchestrate the riots. The police have refused to be drawn on this.
An emergency meeting of Stormont, Northern Ireland’s Assembly, is taking place today.