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Stormont condemns loyalist violence as police brace themselves for another night of rioting

SINN FEIN president Mary Lou McDonald led calls today for a unified voice to condemn loyalist violence in the north of Ireland as Stormont held an emergency recall session.

“The violence witnessed on the streets in recent days is totally unacceptable,” she said following a morning meeting with Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

“Political leaders need to speak with one voice in condemning what is happening and in calling for planned loyalist protests, particularly at interface areas, to be cancelled immediately.”

Loyalists have rioted in Carrickfergus, Derry and Belfast as they complain of feeling abandoned by the British state, a situation that they say has worsened in the wake of Brexit.

Scores of police officers have been injured in the violence and on Wednesday night a bus driver was pulled out of his vehicle, which was set alight, while a photojournalist was attacked and his equipment damaged.

Critics have blamed a lack of leadership in the unionist community and its failure to reign in far-right paramilitary organisations that are exploiting the discontent. 

Sinn Fein’s Paul Maskey condemned the violence and what he described as “vile sectarian abuse directed at the journalist.”

The West Belfast MP said: “This is utterly unacceptable and is not only an attack on an individual but the freedom of the press, which is the cornerstone of any democracy. 

“Everyone should be able to go about their work free from fear of intimidation, harassment or attack.”

Mr Maskey warned that the “reckless rhetoric of political unionism” was whipping up the loyalist disturbances, calling for it to stop immediately before someone is killed or seriously injured.

Some 600 people are believed to have been involved in Wednesday night’s violence and the police said that paramilitary groups were likely to have been involved.

The PSNI described the scenes as “disturbing, unnecessary and unwanted.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she was disturbed to see that children as young as 12 had been involved in confrontations with police, adding that she had been horrified to watch footage of adults “standing by cheering and goading and encouraging young people on as they wreaked havoc in their own community.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly unanimously passed a motion today calling for an end to the violence after reconvening following a petition from the Alliance Party.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein said that it was a miracle that no-one had been killed, while Democratic Unionist First Minister Arlene Foster branded the violence “totally unacceptable.”

A small group of loyalists protested outside Stormont late this afternoon while police braced for another night of violence as the Morning Star went to press. 

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