With permission I would like to make a statement about riots in Northern Ireland.
I’m sure the whole House will join me in condemning this shameful violence and in expressing our profound sympathy and support for the police officers who have been injured.
It is also a matter of the gravest concern that the Rt Hon Member for North Belfast was knocked unconscious as he tried to calm the situation on the streets of his constituency.
I’m certain I can speak for everyone here in wishing him well and warmly welcoming him back to his customary place today.
Mr Speaker, on Friday evening, following the annual 12th July parades, around 5,000 people gathered to protest against the Parades Commission determination not to allow three Orange Lodges to return home past the nationalist Ardoyne area.
This has been the scene of serious disorder in recent years, including shots fired at police by dissident republicans.
Violence erupted as the crowd reached the police line on Woodvale Road preventing access to the route past the Ardoyne shop fronts.
This has followed by further disturbances and rioting on each night since then mainly in the Woodvale Parade/Twaddell Avenue area but also in the Newtownards Road in east Belfast, Mount Vernon in north Belfast, Rathcoole in Newtownabbey and Ballyclare.
During these disturbances, the police have come under attack from a variety of weapons including fireworks, petrol bombs, bottles, stones, masonry, iron bars and ceremonial swords.
Last night improvised explosive devices were thrown at police officers including 4 blast bombs in east Belfast and a pipe bomb from Brompton Park in the Ardoyne.
Water cannon and AEP plastic bullet rounds have been discharged on 4 successive nights and 71 police officers have been injured.
I am well aware of the anger felt by many people over the Parades Commission determination in relation to Ardoyne.
But however strongly people feel, there can be no justification, or excuse, for the behaviour we have seen in recent days.
Attacks on the police are wholly unacceptable and I condemn them without hesitation or reservation.
It is also utterly disgraceful that the RH Member for north Belfast found himself the victim of this violence too.
There has been talk of attacks on British identity and culture in Northern Ireland.
Well the sort of behaviour that’s been taking place in north Belfast does nothing to promote ‘Britishness’ or the pro-Union cause.
Rather it undermines it in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.
In fact it is hard to think of anything less British and less patriotic than wrapping yourself in a Union Flag and going out to attack the people who are there to maintain the rule of law and protect the whole community.
And now it is the responsibility of everyone with influence, including the Orange Order, community leaders and politicians to do all we can to defuse tensions and calm the situation.
We need temperate language over the coming days.
I’m afraid the Orange Order do need to reflect carefully on their role in encouraging mass protests on Friday in a highly volatile situation without the careful planning, stewarding and engagement with the police that is so important for keeping people safe when big crowds gather together.
While the Orange Order announcement of the suspension of their protests was welcome, it is now time to call them off completely.
I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland over recent days. They have demonstrated fortitude, determination and courage in defending the rule of law.
They put their own safety on the line in the face of violent attacks and they deserve our utmost praise, support and thanks - as do the police officers from Great Britain who provided mutual aid support.
I would like to commend the leadership of Chief Constable, Matt Baggott and Justice Minister, David Ford. I know that meticulous planning took place to ensure that everything possible was done to try to keep people safe over the weekend of the 12th including drafting approximately 1,000 mutual aid officers from Great Britain.
Of the 4,000 or so parades that take place annually in Northern Ireland, the vast majority pass off without major problems, including hundreds on the 12th July.
But any rioting is unacceptable, not least because it undermines efforts to secure economic recovery for Northern Ireland and because it makes competing in the global race for jobs and investment that much more difficult.
The way forward has to be through dialogue to find sustainable, local solutions to contentious parades, as has been the case in Derry/Londonderry.
I welcomed the talks that took place between members of the Orange Order and Ardoyne residents before the Parades Commission determination. I know how difficult this will be after what has happened but I believe it is vital that this dialogue continues.
I also welcome inclusion of parading in the remit of the Executive’s All-Party Working Group and the appointment of the distinguished US former envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, to chair it.
The Government has always made clear that we are open to a devolved solution if one can be found. But in the meantime we will not tolerate lawlessness on the streets of Belfast any more than we would in any other UK city.
Last week in this Chamber, issues were raised regarding my powers in relation to Parades Commission determinations. These are set out in the Public Processions Act 1998.
Section 9 states that I can only review a determination made by the Parades Commission following a request by the Chief Constable. The reason why he hasn’t made such a request is because at all times he has been confident that the officers under his command can police the situation. And I fully share that confidence.
So to those on the streets over recent days taking part in this violence I say this.
So far 60 arrests and been made, emergency courts were sitting at Laganside on Sunday to accelerate the criminal justice process.
But that’s just the start.
No stone will be left unturned in building the case needed for more arrests and criminal convictions. Those who engage in so-called recreational rioting and attacks on police officers can expect to face the full force of the law.
I am confident that for some that will mean that the next 12th of July holiday will be spent not out in the sunshine following the parades but locked up in prison living with the consequences of their crimes they have committed.