A CLEAN-UP operation got underway this morning following a night of violence at Lanark Way.
Residents living on the Springfield Road were subjected to a night of terror after a loyalist protest quickly turned violent with the hijacking of a bus and a Belfast Telegraph photographer being assaulted and subjected to sectarian abuse.
New footage shows moment loyalist rioters hijack bus in west Belfast.— Patricia Devlin (@trishdevlin) April 7, 2021
One man can be heard shouting, ‘Tell the driver to drive it down... where’s the driver?’
Another shouts, ‘petrol bomb it’.
Rioter in driver seat releases brake before getting off. Bus seems to have free rolled. pic.twitter.com/FHKBTw59RS
A loyalist mob then breached the Lanark Way security gate where they were met by crowds of nationalist youths, making the situation even more volatile.
One resident from the nationalist Springfield Road that we spoke to said that the violence was hard to take in.
"We haven't had this type of thing here for quite a number of years and that was through the hard work and efforts of people across the divide.
"We have been trying to maintain things with some sense of normality but it all went to hell in a handcart yesterday."
He added: "This was a clearly orchestrated attack and the sooner the police get to grips with those behind it then maybe we will see an end to this behaviour."
Another resident who lives close to where the trouble broke out says that she believes the police response may have escalated the situation.
"What happened here last night was a disgrace" she tells me. "However, the way the PSNI came flying down that road, there was no need for it whatsoever.
"I felt safe. The community network groups were out on the ground alongside the residents trying to calm the situation.
"We had hoped that the peace line could come down but after that, I don't see it happening."
"Many of the kids involved weren't even from this area. They were arriving from everywhere and were clearly intoxicated. We were then left to suffer the consequences."
Over the last six nights 55 @PoliceServiceNI officers have been injured while working to keep order on our streets. I thank the Officers and their families for their continued dedication & professionalism. I again appeal for calm & ask that the street violence stop immediately.— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI) April 8, 2021
The SDLP's West Belfast representative Paul Doherty, who was on the ground described it as "carnage".
"There was quite a lot of us on the ground last night and we witnessed some depressing scenes" he said.
"We tried to engage with the young people involved but the vast majority were intent on creating havoc and carnage.We tried to highlight the impact this would have on them and their own community.
"When you see people ripping up masonry and bricks, breaking down fences and burning bins, people were horrified.
"The situation got out of control as the day went on, but it is up to us to show leadership on the ground."
I've spent this evening trying to talk sense into many young people engaging in violence at Lanark Way and on the Springfield Road. This needs to end now before someone is seriously hurt or worse, killed. pic.twitter.com/migRLLkERU— Paul Doherty (@PaulDohertySDLP) April 7, 2021
Appealing for calm, Sinn Féin Councillor Claire Canavan called on unionist leaders to de-escalate the situation.
Speaking to belfastmedia.com she said "The disgraceful scenes of violence and destruction at Lanark Way last night have clearly been planned in advance and orchestrated by loyalist crime gangs.
"It was reckless and irresponsible of loyalists to bring young people out onto the streets near an interface in a move clearly designed to increase community tension.
"These senseless incidents over the last number of days need to end before someone is killed or seriously injured.
"Those behind these despicable attacks and disturbances need to call a halt to them immediately. They also need to call off protests planned for the coming days.
"Unionist leaders need to stand against this violence, deescalate the situation and bring the campaign of madness and destruction to an end.
"I would appeal for calm going forward into the weekend and for our young people not to get involved in any incidents that may take place."
This morning Executive ministers met with the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne this morning to be briefed on the situation.
Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald, who also met the Chief Constable, said: "The violence witnessed on the streets in recent days is totally unacceptable.
"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.
"There is no justification for the attacks we have witnessed on PSNI officers, those who drive our buses and on local communities. I have relayed Sinn Féin's support to the Chief Constable this morning, as the police work to ensure communities are kept safe."
Met with @ChiefConPSNI this morning.Ongoing orchestrated violence must end. Those stoking up tensions at interfaces must be faced down. Those inflicting violence held to account. Above all citizens and communities must be protected. Politics leaders must speak with one voice.— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) April 8, 2021
Following the meeting, a joint statement was issued on behalf of all Ministers. In it they 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.
The ongoing street disorder must stop.— Simon Byrne (@ChiefConPSNI) April 7, 2021
I am open to dialogue with anyone who is willing to work with me to resolve the issues facing our community.
My message to those engaged in violence tonight is go home before someone is seriously injured, violence is not the answer.
"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."
First Minister Arlene Foster, not present in the chamber due to illness, literally looming large over proceedings.— Rónán Duffy (@ronanduffy_) April 8, 2021
She sounds quite hoarse as she speaks. pic.twitter.com/OBKimZP4DB
The Assembly has also been recalled to discuss the violence with First Minister Arlene Foster addressing the chamber virtually due to illness.
All Pictures by Jim Corr.