UDA blamed for orchestrating violence involving children and teens in Derry's Waterside: united calls for trouble to end
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) has been blamed for encouraging children and teenagers to risk their future by engaging in political violence in Derry.
Nationalist and unionist MLAs united in condemning the rioting in the Assembly this morning and called for it to stop.
The condemnation followed over a week of disturbances in Derry and Belfast that saw dozens of police officers injured as they came under petrol bomb and missile attack in predominantly unionist areas.
Rioting was witnessed in Tullyally, Nelson Drive, Irish Street and Lincoln Court.
Speaking as the Assembly was recalled this morning to urgently discuss the disorder Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson said: "The violence that erupted in Derry was mainly in the Waterside Protestant, unionist and loyalist (PUL) areas and it was orchestrated by criminal gangs.
"To demonstrate a unity of purpose, political leaders – myself, Gary Middleton, Karen Mullan and Sinéad McLaughlin met with the PSNI District Commander [Darrin Jones] the Chamber of Commerce, the City Centre Initiative (CCI) and other statutory agencies to discuss reports of an ambulance being stoned, petrol bombs being fired at passing cars, petrol bombs being put into the hands of 12 year old children and police officers being injured and afterwards we issued a joint system calling for an end to the ongoing cycle of violence."
DUP MLA Gary Middleton disputed the report that an ambulance was stoned in the city and Ms. Anderson clarified that she was referring to a 'report' that an ambulance has been attacked.
Ms. Anderson said people living in small mainly nationalist areas like Currynierin and Shepherd’s Glen felt 'utterly terrified in their own homes as violent loyalists attempted to restricted access into and out of their estates - putting lives, families and communities at risk.'
SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin blamed the UDA for directing teenagers to commit acts of violence in the Waterside.
"We can be confident that these teenagers and pre-teens were motivated and orchestrated by paramilitary groups. On the Waterside areas of Derry, that means the UDA. And we know that the PSNI has been ramping up its actions against the UDA in recent weeks. No wonder its leaders are angry," she said.
Mrs. McLaughlin said there was much work to be done to ‘rid ourselves of the scourge of the paramilitaries’ on all sides.
DUP MLA Gary Middleton described himself as a proud Newbuildings native who is married into the Nelson Drive community - one of the many that has been the focus of some of the pathetic scenes of the past week.
He pointed out that the violence did not reflect these communities at all.
"The images and the videos that I have seen are not a true reflection of who we are. In my constituency I believe the sense of community and looking out for one another is second to none.
"Over the course of the pandemic we have seen the best of our people, stepping up to help their neighbours."
Ms. Anderson said she understood people from unionist areas felt that their identity had been undermined 'as a result of changes brought about by the British Government and by political unionism.'
But she said there is a need to re-open dialogue and to be careful with rhetoric in order to calm tensions that have contributed to the violent scenes witnessed on the streets of the city.
"My appeal today, on behalf of many in Derry, the place I have the privilege of representing, is for us to work together and use dialogue to meet those challenges - together - and to shape a future that addresses the needs of all our people together
"I don’t want to see any young person from any tradition having their lives ruined by a criminal record.
"Young people - enraged by dangerous, provocative rhetoric, are easy prey for criminal gangs involved in drug dealing, extortion and intimidation as well as attacks on journalists, bus drivers, photographers and public representatives.
"It’ll be those young loyalists who will face the wrath of the criminal justice system - not those who shamelessly stocked up and orchestrate such violence."
Mrs. McLaughlin, who is the SDLP economy spokesperson, claimed those behind the political violence witnessed in the Waterside did not want young people from unionist areas to secure decent jobs.
She said: "They do not want young people to have the opportunity for well-paid rewarding jobs.
"At this moment, negotiations are taking place for significant numbers of new jobs in Derry. I very sincerely hope the riots will not affect those discussions – but they certainly do not help.
"We must give our young people hope in the future – whereas the paramilitaries offer them a few minutes of buzz, followed by years of deprivation and, for some, prison."
Mr. Middleton said there is no excuse for the rioting that flared in predominantly unionist areas over the Easter period.
"I unequivocally condemn the violence and the disorder that we have witnessed across our communities in recent days, whether the violence happens in Londonderry or Belfast, Ballymena or Craigavon it should be condemned equally.
"There can be no excuse for damaging or destroying the property of our neighbours, of our communities, or indeed attacking the PSNI officers attending the scene. My thoughts are with each and every one of those officers injured and indeed all of the rank and file officers of the PSNI who have unacceptably come under attack for simply doing their job."
However, Mr. Middleton referred to 'deep frustrations and anger' within the loyalist community.
"The fundamental concerns expressed by the wider unionist community are genuine and they must be addressed. It is of the utmost importance that these concerns are not drowned out by the mayhem that we have sadly witnessed on our streets," he said.
He referred to the Irish Protocol that has arisen from the United Kingdom's abrupt departure from the European Union.
"Frustrations have been building for months. Speech after speech in this chamber I and others warned of the complete disregard being shown to the unionist community by those who champion the border in the Irish Sea and call for the rigorous implementation of the Protocol," he said.
He alluded again to the funeral in Belfast last summer of the veteran republican Bobby Storey.
"The complete disregard for the COVID-19 regulations by the Deputy First Minister [Michelle O'Neill] has caused immense anger and raised serious concerns about the criminal justice system," he stated.
Mr. Middleton told the Assembly that some unionists perceive a system of policing that they believe to be 'two-tiered.'
"The perception of two-tiered policing has led to the erosion of support within the unionist community. It created a vacuum which sadly others seek to fill where there is a perception or a reality of double standards by the police and that damages respect for the rule of law."
Ms. McLaughlin said it was dismaying that almost two years after the writer Lyra McKee was shot dead by republicans during a riot in Creggan that the city has again been convulsed by dangerous levels of disorder.
"Many people have been injured in the rioting in recent days but thankfully no one has yet been killed. It is now two years since Lyra McKee was murdered by the New IRA – she was only in the area for 8 minutes when she became the unintended victim of the paramilitaries who were actually trying to murder a PSNI officer.
"None of us want more blood on our streets and neither do we want to incite or give cover to those that seek opportunities to do so. So let us commemorate the death of Lyra, by making this place, whatever we call it, a better place a place that reconciles with itself and with each other," she said.
The Derry MLAs all supported a motion that noted with concern the violence on the streets over recent days and condemned without equivocation those involved.