Rival politicians have been urged to step back from tit-for-tat rows after a Sinn Fein minister was injured during a contentious parade in Northern Ireland.
SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said his party was deeply concerned about the policing of the Tour of the North demonstration in Belfast on Friday, which he said had left many people annoyed.
The Police Ombudsman is investigating an incident during which Sinn Fein’s Caral N Chuiln, the Stormont Culture Minister, was hurt trying to help party colleague, Gerry Kelly MLA, as he tried to stop a police Land Rover during scuffles in the Peters Hill area.
Both representatives were at a protest by nationalist residents opposed to the annual Orange Order parade. They have come under attack from the DUP, UUP and TUV, who claimed Mr Kelly was obstructing police.
Mr McDevitt, the SDLP’s policing spokesman, said his party has raised concerns about the police operation directly with senior officers and would also do so through the Policing Board. But he insisted nationalist and unionist leaders should not publicly squabble over the incident as the marching season unfolds.
“We all need to show leadership and step back from seeking selfish partisan gain from parading or specific incidents,” he said.
Mr McDevitt said an agreement during talks between police, politicians and community leaders in Cardiff last month made clear the PSNI’s duty to uphold the rule of law at the same time as being made accountable through the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
He added: “I appeal to everyone who supports the Cardiff statement to reflect on the events of Friday night and resist the temptation to engage in public political recrimination. This parades season can be different. We can break the cycle of tit-for-tat politics but only if people at every level continue to talk and show respect.”
In a statement, Mr Kelly claimed the PSNI actions were reckless and dangerous. He said: “The driver moved the Land Rover into me, forcing me to hold on to a security grille on the vehicle when they drove off at speed, taking me with them for a considerable distance.”
UUP East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs said Mr Kelly should be subjected to the same rigours of the law as he sought for others. He added: ‘In choosing to obstruct a police vehicle when an arrest had occurred, Gerry Kelly allowed the crowd to intimidate and attack the police vehicle. This could have caused the situation to escalate.”
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