By James Ward, PA
Church of Ireland bishops in the North have called for an immediate stop to the violence that has taken place in recent days.
Police have been attacked with petrol bombs and other objects as loyalist unrest turned violent in Belfast and Derry throughout the week.
In a joint statement on Easter Monday, bishops called for an immediate halt and urged those involved to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.
It is never acceptable for anyone to attack police officers with petrol bombs, stones and fireworks, and to risk causing them serious injury or worse
The statement read: “The violence which has been happening in parts of Northern Ireland over the past week is wrong and should stop immediately.
“People may feel aggrieved at things which have happened in the political sphere recently, but that is where any grievances should be addressed – in the political arena – and any response to these grievances should remain constitutional and legal.
“It is never acceptable for anyone to attack police officers with petrol bombs, stones and fireworks, and to risk causing them serious injury or worse.
“The PSNI do an incredibly difficult job and deserve our support. People may have criticisms of policing but there is a forum for this, and any criticisms should always be expressed respectfully.”
The statement called on young people involved in the riots to think about their futures.
“There may be lifelong consequences, too, for some of the younger people involved in the past week’s disturbances, who could end up with prison sentences, criminal records or life-changing injuries.
“We urge them not to become involved in rioting and not to do anything which they might regret for the rest of their lives,” it said.
“Rioting and destruction are never the answer. They destroy neighbourhoods and divide our community.”
The Church of Ireland letter was sent with the approval of Archbishop John McDowell (Armagh), and bishops David McClay (Down and Dromore); Andrew Forster (Derry and Raphoe) and George Davison (Connor).
Tensions have soared within the loyalist community in recent months over post-Brexit trading arrangements which it is claimed have created barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Anger ramped up further last week following a controversial decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for attending a large-scale republican funeral during Covid-19 restrictions.
All the main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.
Meanwhile in Co Antrim, a recent series of drug seizures against the South East Antrim UDA – a renegade faction of the main grouping – have caused particular ill-feeling towards police. The faction is believed to have been behind the disturbances in Newtownabbey on Saturday.