Petrol bombs have been thrown at the PSNI for a second night in County Antrim as loyalist paramilitaries have continued to orchestrate violence.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the scenes of petrol bombs being thrown were “a direct consequence of the actions of political unionism” and blamed the rhetoric of the unionist DUP for sending a “very dangerous message” to young people in loyalist areas.
Unionist anger at the PSNI police increased last week following a decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians for attending the funeral of the late IRA leader Bobby Storey during Covid-19 restrictions.
PSNI raids on loyalist drug operations and tensions over Brexit are also seen as factors in the trouble, which began in Derry last week and the Belfast area over the weekend, but has now shifted to areas in County Antrim.
The worst violence was on Friday night, when youths some as young as 11 were involved in rioting understood to have been orchestrated by the loyalist crime gangs of the south Belfast UDA.
The PSNI said 27 members of the force were injured during the clashes in the Sandy Row area in the south city centre, which lasted for three hours and ended with seven arrests, including teenagers as young as 13 years of age.
The baton was taken up on Saturday night by another faction, te South East Antrim UDA, who have now been directly responsible for two nights of trouble in Newtownabbey, north of Belfast.
A crowd of some 20 masked older men gathered at a road intersection in the Cloughfern area, where on Saturday three cars were hijacked and set alight. One rioter appeared to set himself on fire as some 30 petrol bombs were thrown at PSNI vehicles.
More petrol bombs were thrown on Sunday night in the same area, although the trouble was briefer and dispersed quickly as temperatures dropped.
However, attention has now moved further up the coast to Carrickfergus, where a burning bin placed on a road marked the start of a stand-off between PSNI vehicles and masked figures who threw petrol bombs.
The current wave of loyalist violence broke out after months of incitement by unionist politicians and media, and they are now under pressure to call an end to it.
After repeated calls for DUP leaders to denounce the disturbances this weekend were ignored, First Minister Arlene Foster finally responded with a warning on Sunday that causing injury to the PSNI “will not make things better”.
In an Easter message, Mrs Foster claimed that many young people were “hugely frustrated”.
“I appeal to our young people not to get drawn into disorder, which will lead to them having criminal convictions and blighting their own lives,” she said.
“I also ask parents to play their part and be proactive in protecting their young adults.”
Following a reported sectarian attack on a boy in north Belfast on Friday, nationalists across the Six Counties are being urged to remain vigilant.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the disturbances were “a direct consequence of the actions of political unionism”.
“The disturbances in loyalist areas across the north are an outworking of the DUP’s rhetoric and undermining of the PSNI and criminal justice system,” he said.
“By their words and actions they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas.
“The DUP and political unionist leaders need to show leadership and end the incendiary rhetoric.”