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Statement by the Minister on the rioting in Northern Ireland

I am deeply concerned at the rioting and criminal activity which has erupted in parts of Northern Ireland over the past few days. I recognise that the days around the Twelfth of July are always surrounded by tension and that ways still need to be found to reduce the scope for conflict. However, what we are seeing this year marks a considerable escalation over recent years.

The fact that significant rioting has continued in Belfast and elsewhere and that we witnessed an attack, involving robbery, arson and vandalism, on a train carrying innocent civilians through Lurgan is evidence of sinister forces at work. I would like to pay tribute to the PSNI for their professionalism and restraint in policing the unacceptable violence that has once again disfigured the North of our country. I would urge that everything continue to be done to avoid casualties.

Sadly, those in the front line of public disorder appear to be mostly young people from disadvantaged areas looking to break the boredom of a long and inactive summer.

Those directing the violence and who are encouraging these youths to take to the street are the real guilty parties. By their twisted logic, they believe that by inciting violence and sectarian hatred, they can lead Ireland into the future by dragging it back through the horrors of the past. Dreadful as it is to contemplate, they are actually hoping that one or more of the rioters will be killed or maimed in their conflict with the police so that a new generation of martyrs for the cause will inspire others to follow. They are also hoping by their actions to provoke a violent reaction from the protestant community so that communities will once again look to paramilitaries for protection.

I appeal to anybody who has influence over the young people involved in the rioting – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends – to do what you can to keep them from being sacrificed by these cynical godfathers. Keep your loved ones safe from harm. Seeing their name painted on a gable wall will be scant consolation to you in years to come should they fall into harm’s way.

To those misguided, would be republicans who delude themselves into believing that an independent united Irish Republic can still be achieved by violence, I say it’s time to face up to reality. The war is over. The only way that Irish unity, a goal, shared by the majority of people on this island, can be achieved is through peace, reconciliation and consent. The people of Ireland endorsed this reality when they voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Good Friday Agreement. If you do not have the stomach or the patience for the long haul, leave it to those of us who do.

Right now, the biggest threat to Irish unity is not the British, or the Orange Order, but those wannabe republicans who think that they can bomb and shoot their way there.

What chance of peaceful coexistence and eventual reconciliation when unionists fear that they will be marched into a united Ireland with a gun in their back?

What chance of promoting the noble ideals of republicanism when the flag of the Republic is used as an ugly mask for criminal activity?

What chance of removing the British security presence from Ireland when every effort is made to heighten insecurity on the island?

Let nobody be fooled, these so-called “dissident” republicans are unqualified partitionists. Nobody who believes in the Republic should have anything to do with them.