Politics latest news: Stormont 'gravely concerned' after fresh violence in Northern Ireland

Danielle Sheridan
·23 min read

The Stormont Executive has condemned recent scenes of violence across Northern Ireland, stating that they are "gravely concerned" by the scenes of disorder.

In a joint statement the Executive said: "We are gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets over the last week, including those at the Lanark Way interface last night. Attacks on police officers, public services and communities are deplorable and they must stop.

"Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities."

They added that those who would "seek to use and abuse our children and young people to carry out these attacks have no place in our society" and that they will "continue to work together to maximise the support we can give to communities and the PSNI to prevent further violence and unrest".

It comes after DUP leader Arlene Foster said the violence was "totally unacceptable", while Michelle O'Neill, deputy First Minister, said it was "a miracle" that "no-one has been killed".

Meanwhile Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has today headed to Belfast for talks with the main political parties, after Boris Johnson last night called for "dialogue" to resolve differences.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

02:46 PM

'Belfast violence is consequence of 'betrayal' felt by PM's Brexit deal'

Peter Hain, a Labour peer and a former Northern Ireland secretary, said the disorder in Northern Ireland was mainly confined to loyalist communities, who felt “left behind for all sorts of reasons”, as well as “betrayed” over the Brexit deal.

He said: "The prime minister, Boris Johnson, did not tell it straight, with particularly the communities that are in flames at the present time, and the unionist community as a whole.

"He did not tell them that there would be inevitably checks and controls of a customs kind, the sorts that Northern Ireland businesses have been strangled by over recent weeks, with a mountain of paperwork and red tape. He didn’t tell them that was going to happen. And yet he signed a treaty, the withdrawal treaty in December 2019, which made it inevitable, And that’s why I think a lot of people feel betrayed."

He told Sky News that this was why Mr Johnson "needs to get directly involved".

02:34 PM

Alliance party leader and justice minister says using children in riots was 'child abuse'

Speaking about last night's violence Naomi Long said there had been "inflammatory rhetoric with threats of renewed violence bandied around by people who claim to be trying to lead others away from the violent past".

She also said it was disturbing that children had been involved in confrontations with police.

"This is nothing short of child abuse," Ms Long said.

02:04 PM

'Accepting Brexit Protocol will encourage others to behave in accordance with the rule of law'

Northern Ireland's former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan has criticised First Minister Arlene Foster for calling for the resignation of the police chief.

Lady O'Loan also criticised the UK Government for acting on the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland without agreement from Brussels, saying if ministers take the law into their own hands "it does encourage others to do so".

Mrs Foster called for Chief Constable Simon Byrne's resignation after a decision was taken not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians over attendance at a large funeral amid Covid restrictions.

Lady O'Loan, who as the first police ombudsman investigated complaints against officers in Northern Ireland, told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "I think it's entirely inappropriate to have a sort of mob rule that dictates whether a chief constable is allowed to hold office or not."

The crossbench peer also criticised the Westminster Government for unilaterally extending some grace periods on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"That is unlawful, that has been challenged by the EU and I think for Government to act in a way which is unlawful at a time when tensions are so high in Northern Ireland I think is very, very bad," she said.

"If the Government takes the law into their own hands it does encourage others to do so, and this is what they've done with the Brexit Protocol.

"If we can accept it and work with it rather than acting unilaterally, then I think it will encourage people to behave in accordance with the rule of law."

01:43 PM

Scale of disorder on Wednesday night unprecedented for recent years

Riots in parts of Belfast were on a scale not seen in Northern Ireland in recent years, a police chief has said.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said police are investigating whether there was any paramilitary involvement, given the level of pre-planning and orchestration in attacks which saw more than 600 people gathered at an interface between loyalist and republican areas.

Mr Roberts said the scenes of riotous behaviour in Northern Ireland were "disgraceful".

He also said that children as young as 13 and 14 were involved, who were being encouraged and supported by adults who stood by and clapped.

Speaking at PSNI headquarters in Belfast, Mr Roberts said: "The scale of the disorder last night was at a scale that we have not seen in recent years in Belfast or further afield.

"The fact that it was sectarian violence and large groups on both sides is not something we have seen in recent years. We believe there was a level of pre-planning."

He added that the scenes "were disgraceful" and that it was "very lucky that no-one was seriously injured given the large volume of petrol bombs that were thrown".

He said: "I can't confirm the involvement of paramilitaries but the orchestration of last night's disorder and the previous nights is the subject of investigation."

01:17 PM

'Determination to move on from Troubles cannot be crushed by minority'

Brandon Lewis has called on all communities to come together to end the violence, saying that the determination to move on from the Troubles cannot be "crushed by a small minority".

The Northern Ireland Secretary said: "All communities in Northern Ireland must work together to resolve the tensions that we are currently facing.

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve better than a continuation of the violence and disorder that we have witnessed in recent days. I know, from my ongoing contact with party leaders, that this is a view that is shared by all. The only way to resolve differences is through dialogue and in that regard we must all lead by example."

Mr Lewis cautioned that those engaged in the current destruction and disorder "do not represent Northern Ireland".

"I have seen first hand the true spirit of Northern Ireland - the creativity, the optimism and the determination to never return to the conflict and division of the past," he said.

"We cannot allow that spirit to be crushed by a small minority intent on violence."

12:48 PM

Military coup happening 'in middle of London'

Myanmar diplomat Kyaw Zwar Minn said the country's military coup has reached the streets of London after he was barred from entering his embassy (see post 09.38)

The junta has terminated his position as ambassador but he told reporters: "This kind of coup is happening in the middle of the UK, in the middle of London - this shouldn't be happening."

He said he still believed he was ambassador but when it was put to him that the Myanmar state had declared he was no longer their envoy he said: "I haven't got that information yet."

12:34 PM

Breakfasts will be nutritious and aid concentration

Ms Sturgeon added that the free "nutritious" breakfasts for secondary school would boost "energy, concentration and behaviour, which leads to improvements in academic attainment".

"Our plan gives much-needed support to families right now - but it is also a significant investment in Scotland's future," she said.

12:31 PM

SNP pledge free breakfasts for secondary school pupils

Nicola Sturgeon has announced plans to trial free breakfasts for secondary school pupils as she reiterated a pledge to offer free breakfasts and lunches to all children at primary school.

The SNP leader revealed the free breakfast scheme will be piloted in secondary schools if her party wins the upcoming Holyrood election.

During a campaign visit in Glasgow today, Ms Sturgeon said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has been tough for everyone - that's why so much of our focus in government has been to help families get by in tough times.

"All children in primaries 1 to 3 already benefit from access to free school meals, saving families around £400 per child per year.

"But if re-elected, we will go much further. An SNP government will provide free school breakfasts and lunches to every primary school pupil in Scotland, all year round, and for all children in state-funded special schools in Scotland. This will eventually save them an estimated £650 a year per child."

12:09 PM

'Loyalist paramilitaries no role models for our youth'

Michelle O'Neill, deputy First Minister, told MLAs that the spate of violence is dangerous and unacceptable.

"It is a miracle that, as we stand here today, no-one has been killed," she said.

Ms O'Neill said illegal loyalist paramilitaries and criminal elements are influencing young people and orchestrating the violence.

"They stand back and send youngsters out to do their bidding," she said.

"These people are no role models for our youth; they are outdated, they are antiquated and they are caught in a time warp which has no bearing on where the vast majority of people across this society now are or where they want to be.

"They are holding back their own people and they are holding back their own community."

11:52 AM

Joint statement urges calm to be restored in Northern Ireland

Ministers in the Stormont Executive have condemned the violence and rioting that has erupted in Northern Ireland, prompting united calls for calm to be restored.

The Northern Ireland Executive issued a joint statement following a meeting of the powersharing administration to discuss the escalating public disorder.

Ministers were given an update by PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

In a statement, the Executive said: "We are gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets over the last week, including those at the Lanark Way interface last night.

"Attacks on police officers, public services and communities are deplorable and they must stop.

"Destruction, violence and the threat of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, no matter what concerns may exist in communities.

"Those who would seek to use and abuse our children and young people to carry out these attacks have no place in our society.

"While our political positions are very different on many issues, we are all united in our support for law and order and we collectively state our support for policing and for the police officers who have been putting themselves in harm's way to protect others.

"We, and our departments, will continue to work together to maximise the support we can give to communities and the PSNI to prevent further violence and unrest."

11:43 AM

Northern Ireland First Minister says violence harms its image

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the scenes witnessed across Northern Ireland were "totally unacceptable", as she warned that the injuries to police officers, harm to Northern Ireland's image and people's property has taken the region backwards.

Speaking in the Assembly, the Northern Ireland First Minister, said: "Today is not the time to rehearse the arguments in the last few weeks. We should all know that when politics are perceived to fail, those who fill the vacuum cause despair.

"Northern Ireland faces deep political challenges ahead."

11:24 AM

Labour leader calls on PM to 'step up' over violence in Northern Ireland

Sir Keir Starmer has urged Boris Johnson to "step up" and convene all-party talks to tackle violence in Northern Ireland, as he raised concerns the Prime Minister's Brexit promises are not being kept.

The Labour leader and former human rights adviser to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said on Thursday that there is "no justification" for several nights of disorder that have seen dozens of police officers injured.

The violence unfolded amid increasing political tensions over the trade border in the Irish Sea caused by Mr Johnson's Brexit agreements with Brussels, as well as fallout from the police's handling of a mass republican funeral that took place during coronavirus restrictions.

Sir Keir said: "This is about leadership and the Prime Minister can't be absent.

"He needs to convene talks urgently to find pragmatic political solutions to reduce this violence."

Asked during a campaign visit to Bristol if he thinks the violence is a consequence of Brexit, the Labour leader said: "There are concerns in Northern Ireland about Brexit, there are concerns about the promises that the Prime Minister made which haven't been kept.

"They don't justify the violence, let's be very, very clear about that.

"What the Prime Minister needs to do now is step up, show leadership, convene all-party talks and talk to the government of Ireland of course as well, and resolve this with pragmatic political solutions."

Sir Keir made the comments on a visit to Bristol
Sir Keir made the comments on a visit to Bristol

11:07 AM

Brandon Lewis heads to Belfast

The Northern Ireland Secretary is heading to Belfast today for talks with the main political parties.

He will stress need to calm tensions and for a united front.

It comes after Boris Johnson last night called for "dialogue" to resolve differences.

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10:53 AM

Alba Party threatens SNP majority, new poll shows

Alex Salmond's new party threatens to cost the SNP its majority at Holyrood, a new Savanta ComRes poll has suggested.

It predicts the SNP will return 64 MSPs, one short of a majority, while the Alba Party will return none, but with 3p.c of the list vote.

The survey projects the SNP would return a constituency vote of 49p.c and a list vote of 40p.c

The number of Alba voters questioned in the survey of 1,007 Scottish adults for The Scotsman was "extremely small", however about 6p.c of people who voted SNP in 2016 said they would vote for Alba in May.

Meanwhile, 4p.c of those who plan to vote SNP next month said they will choose SNP for their constituency vote and Alba on the list.

Analysis of the poll projects that if all Alba voters reverted to choosing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's party, the SNP would have a majority of three MSPs.

However, it predicts a pro-independence majority of 74 MSPs as it projects that 10 Scottish Green MSPs will be elected.

Nicola Sturgeon pictured beside a Black Lives Matters mural in Glasgow, during campaigning for the Scottish Parliamentary election. -  Andrew Milligan/PA
Nicola Sturgeon pictured beside a Black Lives Matters mural in Glasgow, during campaigning for the Scottish Parliamentary election. - Andrew Milligan/PA

10:30 AM

Former PM calls late Peter Ainsworth 'thoroughly decent man'

Former prime minister David Cameron said: "Peter Ainsworth was a key driver of our modernising agenda in opposition, particularly our environmental policy.

"It was an honour to have him in my shadow cabinet. He was also such a kind, generous & thoroughly decent man & will be greatly missed.

"My thoughts are with his family."

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Meanwhile, the Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has also paid tribute, saying Mr Ainsworth was "a genuinely lovely guy, who was well-liked across the House".

"Like so many people we enjoy being around, he was taken too soon," he said.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Mr Ainsworth was chairman of trustees at the Churches Conservation Trust and the Heritage Alliance.

The organisations said he died suddenly and will be greatly missed.

10:28 AM

PM pays tribute to former Tory peer Peter Ainsworth

Boris Johnson has paid tribute to former Conservative MP Peter Ainsworth, who has died aged 64.

Mr Ainsworth was MP for East Surrey from 1992 to 2010 and held a series of frontbench roles, including as shadow culture secretary and shadow environment secretary.

The Prime Minister said Mr Ainsworth was a "delightful colleague" and "passionate about his causes, especially the environment".

The pair had offices on the same corridor and "often found ourselves charging late for the division", as votes in the Commons are known.

"He has been taken far too young," Mr Johnson said, offering his thoughts to Mr Ainsworth's widow Claire and their family.

09:55 AM

Nicola Sturgeon says she will take AstraZeneca jab if offered

Scotland's First Minister said the AZ vaccine "is safe" and added "nobody is saying other than that".

She said: "The blood clotting risk that has been identified is very, very, very rare, this is a precautionary approach that has been recommended by clinical advisers."

Ms Sturgeon added that she has her own vaccine appointment next week and "will be there enthusiastically".

"If I'm offered the AstraZeneca vaccine, I will take the AstraZeneca vaccine willingly."

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09:29 AM

PM may not go to Scotland ahead of May elections due to Covid-19

Boris Johnson may not campaign in Scotland ahead of next month's Holyrood elections, it has emerged.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross admitted he was "not sure" if Mr Johnson would travel north ahead of the May 6 poll.

He said he had "previously expected" the UK party leader to come to Scotland, but said the coronavirus pandemic, and restrictions imposed as a result, made it a "very different" type of campaign.

The Prime Minister last visited Scotland at the end of January.

Asked if Mr Johnson would be campaigning in Scotland ahead of the election, Mr Ross said: "I am not sure he is going to come up."

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: "I had previously expected him to come up. Clearly as we continue to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic this whole election is very different.

"Clearly it is a different election than any of us have experienced before."

With four weeks to go until polling day, he said "we will have to see what happens".

He added that Mr Johnson remained "fully in touch with what we are doing here".

"But he understands it's my campaign as leader of the Scottish Conservatives, it is our manifesto, he is absolutely behind what we are doing here in Scotland, but he knows our fight is as Scottish Conservatives and he is backing that as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom."

09:04 AM

Over 700,000 doses of AZ vaccine sent from the UK to Australia

Health Secretary Matt Hancock did not deny the reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age about the shipment, despite the UK facing a squeeze on vaccine supplies.

The move comes with the UK, Australia and the EU embroiled in rows over the export of vaccines.

The Australian news outlets reported that 717,000 UK-made doses have been flown in to help Scott Morrison's government's vaccination programme.

The first 300,000 UK-made doses landed at Sydney Airport on February 28, with a further large delivery on an Emirates passenger plane in March.

Mr Hancock did not dispute the reports but told Sky News: "We have made sure that we can get the jabs that we need here and that's why we have the fastest rollout."

He added: "In terms of what the companies do, these companies are manufacturing for all around the world and we source from everywhere in the world, so what I'm in control of, what matters for us as the UK Government, is making sure that we get the supplies that we have got contracted from the companies."

But he said the UK Government itself did not send the doses.

08:38 AM

Foreign Secretary condemns Myanmar military regime 'bullying' seen on British soil

Dominic Raab has this morning called out “the bullying actions of the Myanmar military regime in London yesterday”, after the Ambassador was blocked from the Embassy by allies of the junta.

Last night, Kyaw Zwar Minn, who has served as the Asian nation’s ambassador to the UK since 2014, alleged that the Myanmar embassy in London was “stormed” and seized by allies of the nation’s new military regime.

In response to the allegations Mr Raab tweeted:

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For more details on the story read this Telegraph exclusive which sets out what happened at the embassy yesterday evening.

08:29 AM

Keep taking the AstraZeneca vaccine, say family of first named blood clot victim

Today's front page story is a message from the bereaved family of Neil Astles, a solicitor who died from a blood clot on the brain after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Despite the grief and fury the family are feeling, their message toe the public is clear: continue taking the AstraZeneca vaccine because "fewer people will die".

Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, his sister, Dr Alison Astles, said:

"Despite what has happened to our family, we strongly believe that everyone should go for their first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"Emotionally, we are completely and utterly furious. We are suffering. But there's nothing in our minds to be really furious about. My brother was just extraordinarily unlucky.

"If we all have the vaccine, a few of us might have a blood clot but the evidence is that fewer people will die. We trust the process, we trust the regulator, and despite what has happened to our family we don't want people to be scared off. That's the message we want to get across."

You can read the full story here

08:06 AM

Nadhim Zahawi says drug safety is 'reassuring' aspect of vaccine roll-out

The Vaccines Minister has told me this morning that the reassurance is "that pharmacovigilance in both the United Kingdom & the EU works well".

"The MHRA yellow card system where adverse incidents are reported, analysed and published by the MHRA independent of Government should reassure the public that we pick up any safety signal straight away," he adds.

"This is important in maintaining confidence in the largest vaccination program in history.

"We will follow the advice and are confident in meeting our programme targets."

07:53 AM

Risk equivalent of taking long-haul flight

Mr Hancock stressed the effects of long Covid on under-30s who may be hesitant over receiving a coronavirus vaccine due to the latest change in guidance.

He said the vaccines "are safe", and that it was "fine" if people in that age category wanted to have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, but cautioned that "long Covid affects people in their 20s just as much it seems as any other age group and can have debilitating side effects that essentially ruin your life".

He told BBC Breakfast: "The safety system that we have around this vaccine is so sensitive that it can pick up events that are four in a million - I'm told this is about the equivalent risk of taking a long-haul flight."

07:42 AM

'Europe is so far behind' UK in vaccine roll out, professor says

Professor Anthony Harnden said his "strong advice" is for people who have had the first AstraZeneca dose to get their second one, because it is not known how long protection from a first dose will last.

When asked on Good Morning Britain about the difference in approach in some European countries, where use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is restricted to older age groups, he said: "You have to remember a few months ago I was on your show trying to defend using it in the over-65s and other European countries were only using it in the under-65s, so I really can't be accountable for the way that they make the decisions.

"All I can do is reassure the public that we have the top experts on our committee who pore over this data in incredible detail and at the moment we think this is the right strategy."

He added: "Europe is so far behind what we're doing in this country that many, many more people will die in Europe because of their stop-start vaccination strategies than they will in this country where we've been solid, we've rolled it out quickly, we've responded to safety signals, we've chosen the right age groups, we've made bold decisions about that delayed second dose and everything we've decided so far has come good so I think the public needs to be with us on this."

07:23 AM

Politics today

Good morning. The Government will be out in force today trying to encourage the public to take up the vaccine when offered, despite recent guidance that healthy under-30s will now receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the AstraZeneca jab.

The Health Secretary stressed the Government "can have confidence" in the AZ vaccine and implored the public that "when you get the call get the jab."

Senior Tory MPs have expressed concern about the new guidance, saying anti-vaxxers will jump on this.

Meanwhile Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, insisted the safest course was to get the AZ jab.

He said: " People should not lose confidence in this Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, it's a great vaccine."

He said the fact the small number of blood clot cases have been detected among the 20 million doses delivered "just shows you how vigilant we are".

"We just wanted to be honest and open with the public and make our decisions accordingly," he added.