The Bishop of Down and Connor has urged politicians to be more careful about their language following outbreaks of violence in towns and cities across Northern Ireland.
Bishop Noel Treanor has also appealed to young people “to stop engaging in disturbance and violent activity now” after more than 70 police officers have been hurt in what police are calling Northern Ireland’s worst violence for years.
Tension has risen after a decision by the authorities not to prosecute members of the Sinn Féin party for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey. Northern Ireland’s First Minister and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has been deeply critical of the decision and called on police chief Simon Byrne to resign.
The country has witnessed some of the worst rioting in recent years and, police deployed a water cannon to disperse young rioters.
Within the last week, petrol bombs, fireworks and stones have been used to attack police. A journalist has also been attacked and a bus driver was injured when his bus was hijacked and set on fire.
“Sadly, over the past week, we have experienced a return to civic unrest and violence on our streets,” Bishop Treanor said. “These scenes are deeply concerning for all of us who believe in and have worked together for a shared, brighter future for our society.
“I wish to express my particular concern and support for those police officers who have been injured in this violence and for their families. The police service is an integral part of our society, made up of women and men from every background and tradition, called to serve the common good and safety of our shared society.
“The police service deserves our support in its efforts to bring safety and order to our streets. I ask politicians to weigh carefully the impact of their words, to avoid the deeply damaging politicisation of civic policing and to use the available mechanisms of accountability and influence to deal with any concerns that may arise,” Bishop Treanor said.
Church leaders on both sides of the divide have been on the streets pleading for rioters to stop. People as young as 13 have been arrested for disorder.
Police said they are concerned that hardline loyalist paramilitaries may be orchestrating the violence. Much of the violence from youths has occurred near so-called ‘peace lines’ – walls erected to prevent clashes between Catholic and Protestant communities.
Addressing young people directly, Bishop Treanor urged them “to stop engaging in disturbance and violent activity now”.
“I know you don’t want to hurt anyone or kill anyone, so don’t get caught up in this violence. Beware of being manipulated and controlled by others who urge you on to violence while they themselves stay in the background so that they don’t get caught,” Bishop Treanor said.
The unrest comes almost 23 years to the day – 10th April – when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, which brought an end to 30 years of sectarian killing by paramilitaries.
Appealing directly to politicians, Bishop Treanor said: “In this year 2021, there is a choice to be made for our future as a society. For 20 years we have shown that we have the will to make positive choices. Where political leaders harness that will with creative, imaginative and responsible leadership, there is a way. That way involves reaching out in solidarity to build trust and also to challenge those who seek to control and imprison us and our young people in the past.”
Picture: Debris burns as riot police clash with protesters in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 8thApril 2021. The Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor, has urged politicians to be more careful about their language. (CNS photo/Jason Cairnduff, Reuters).