Social unrest broke out across Newtownabbey and Belfast, located in Northern Ireland, for the second night (Saturday night) amid rising post-Brexit tensions, reported Irish Times. A more immediate catalyst to the unrest over Easter weekend was last week's decision by public prosecutors not to charge anyone with alleged breaches of COVID regulations at an IRA funeral sparked Unionist outrage.
Many blamed pro-British unionists for stoking tensions over their vehement opposition to new post-Brexit trade barriers.
“By their words and actions they have sent a very dangerous message to young people in loyalist areas,” Gerry Kelly, a lawmaker from the pro-Irish Sinn Fein party, which shares power in the devolved government with the DUP, said in a statement.
Others pinned the blame on unequal treatment of COVID restrictions.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lawmaker, Christopher Stalford, told Reuters that demonstrators were “acting out of frustration” after prosecutors did not charge any members of Sinn Fein last week for alleged public health breaches.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster urged calm:
"I know that many of our young people are hugely frustrated by the events of this last week but causing injury to police officers will not make things better. And I send my strong support to all of the rank-and-file police officers that are on duty over this Easter weekend. 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."
Social disturbances began on Friday and continued well into Saturday night. Political leaders stressed peace but unrest quickly spiraled out of control in Newtownabbey and Belfast.
Demonstrators threw petrol bombs at police, hijacked three vehicles, and caused damage. Police said dozens of demonstrators gathered around Cloughfern roundabout in the O'Neill's Road area of Newtownabbey around 19:30 BST to 22:30 BST.
North Area Commander Chief Superintendent Davy Beck described Saturday's attack on police as "orchestrated."
"No one, no matter what line of work they are in, deserves to be subjected to any kind of violence," Beck said.
Saturday's unrest followed riots on Friday night in which 27 police officers were injured in Belfast and Londonderry.
Video footage has emerged of burned-out cars and a police van being targeted.
What is the point in this? Destroying your own communities is not the way to protest or vent. Why is it always our @PoliceServiceNI colleagues who face the brunt of this pointless violence? @naomi_long @NIPolicingBoard pic.twitter.com/QGmNsjek3u— Police Federation for Northern Ireland (@PoliceFedforNI) April 3, 2021
Here's more video of the Easter weekend unrest.
NEW: Man injured by petrol bomb in Newtownabbey last night. The flames were eventually put out before his injuries were more severe. pic.twitter.com/AD6gflvnMJ— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) April 4, 2021
Newtownabbey riots going crazy as tensions flared within loyalism across Northern Ireland. pic.twitter.com/6RwdUZ9Fzv— CIA-Simulation Warlord 🇺🇸🦈🇺🇸 (@zerosum24) April 4, 2021
WATCH: A line of police officers and several armored vehicles move toward a crowd of protesters in South Belfast. The small protest turned into a riot Friday night, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Fifteen officers were injured and seven people were arrested pic.twitter.com/5HIVyLlLhy— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 4, 2021
As Reuters reminds us, the British-run region remains deeply split along sectarian lines, 23 years after a peace deal largely ended three decades of bloodshed. Many Catholic nationalists aspire to unification with Ireland while Protestant unionists want to stay in the UK.