‘Deeply concerning scenes’: Violence in Northern Ireland enters sixth consecutive night

Northern Ireland witnessed violence for the sixth consecutive night as unionists and nationalists clashed with police and each other.

Unrest first broke out last week amid rising tensions relating to Brexit and unionist anger over a decision by police not to prosecute leaders of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein for allegedly breaking coronavirus restrictions during the funeral of a former leading IRA figure.

In west Belfast on Wednesday, rioters clashed with unionist and nationalist communities, with police struggling to close a gate designed to separate the areas.

A bus was set on fire on Lanark Way near the junction with Shankill Road, police said.

At least 55 police officers have been injured in clashes over the past six days, Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne told the Northern Irish government on Thursday.

In a statement, Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin condemned the violence and “attacks on police,” adding the “only way forward is to address issues of concern through peaceful and democratic means.”

“Now is the time for the two Governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm,” Martin said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned by the scenes of violence” in Northern Ireland.

“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality,” Johnson said on Twitter.

Tensions have been growing in Northern Ireland since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, creating the potential of a border between the British-ruled north and the Republican of Ireland in the south, which remains in the EU. The lack of a border had been seen as a key element of the post-1998 peace that followed three decades of sectarian violence.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, a de facto border was created in the Irish Sea, with goods entering Northern Ireland from mainland Britain subject to EU checks, a move which angered unionists, who have accused London of abandoning them.