By Rebecca Black, PA
The leader of the Alliance Party has urged parties to unite around a call for calm following several nights of disorder across Northern Ireland.
The Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled on Thursday to discuss the recent scenes of violence in mainly loyalist areas.
Some 41 police officers have been injured and 10 people arrested in the disturbances.
Naomi Long secured the required support of 30 Assembly members to force a return to debate a motion condemning the recent attacks on police.
Ms Long – who serves as Justice Minister – said it is her party’s intention to get all parties at Stormont to “unite around a call for calm and the cessation of violence”.
She told RTE that she also wants to hear all elected representatives express confidence in policing structures and in the rule of law.
“Over the last number of weeks we have heard increasingly inflammatory public comments around policing in Northern Ireland, political comments that have been deeply and profoundly unsettling and we have then seen this spill over into violence on the streets,” she said.
“These situations and intentions of course then will be exploited by those in paramilitary organisations, so it is incumbent on all of us who are in leadership at a time like this to come together and to speak with one voice to say that this violence must stop and irrespective of our various political views, that we do not support it, that we do not want to see it continue but more than that, that we are absolutely committed to the rule of law and to fair and equitable policing across our society.”
The violence has been blamed on anger in response to a decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) not to pursue prosecutions against members of Sinn Fein who attended the funeral of Bobby Storey last year despite restrictions over gatherings, as well as Brexit and localised issues in the south east Antrim area.
The PPS pointed to police engagement with the funeral planners as one reason why any prosecution was likely to fail as well as the repeatedly changing and inconsistent nature of Stormont’s coronavirus regulations.
Unionist parties have been critical of the PSNI, with DUP leader Arlene Foster calling for the resignation of Chief Constable Simon Byrne.
She has condemned the violence and voiced support for police on the ground.
Ms Long said she wants to “hold people accountable for the words that they use”.
“We have seen ourselves get into an incredibly difficult situation because of the decision of Sinn Fein to attend a huge funeral and disregard the law that was set down around Covid,” she said.
“There has been huge anger in the community because they treated themselves as an exception to the rules even though they set the rules, however the response of unionist politicians to the fact that the PPS said it was unlikely a prosecution could be secured has been equally unacceptable in essentially making the Chief Constable and by extension the police service a lightning rod for people’s anger.”
Ms Long added: “If there has been any improper behaviour either in the PSNI or anywhere else, there are checks and balances which are robust enough to deal with that and it’s incumbent on those of us who are political leaders to defend that process.”