Petrol bomb attacks on journalists in Derry after dissident parade condemned as ‘deeply disturbing’

Attacks on media in Creggan area a ‘clear strategy’ of intimidation, National Union of Journalists says

Petrol bomb attacks on journalists and photographers following a dissident republican parade in Derry on Monday represented a “clear strategy” of intimidation towards the media, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said.

The NUJ’s assistant general secretary Séamus Dooley condemned the attacks as “completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing”.

The union said a number of petrol bombs were thrown at members of the media who were reporting on the march in the Creggan area of the city, and that a media crew was chased from the area by a group wearing balaclavas.

One petrol bomb was thrown at a television reporter, one exploded at the feet of a journalist after he had warned a colleague he was being pursued, and two petrol bombs were thrown at members of the media who were being chased trying to escape, the NUJ said.

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A van was set on fire and the police warned drivers to avoid the area for a time on Monday afternoon due to there being youths in the area with petrol bombs.

Mr Dooley said he understood “one man warned photographers to ‘get out of Creggan’”.

Belfast Live reporter Niall Deeney told the BBC he had gone to warn colleagues that the situation was escalating when “a young boy with a balaclava on threw a petrol directly and deliberately at my feet, directly at where I was standing, I think it was an attempt to intimidate me”.

Mr Deeney said the group then pursued other members of the media and continued to throw petrol bombs at them. “There was a sense that in the absence of a visible police target, journalists became almost like a consolation prize,” he said.

A colour party of about 12 masked men in paramilitary-style dress, wearing sunglasses and berets and carrying flags, paraded from Central Drive to the City Cemetery, where wreaths were laid and an oration delivered, on Monday afternoon.

The procession was organised by the Derry 1916 Commemoration Committee to mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising, has in previous years been the focus of significant disorder with police attacked by masked youths throwing petrol bombs.

Among the crowd were some youths, with their faces covered, carrying petrol bombs and other missiles.

The event was watched by a police helicopter and a drone which issued a warning to those present that they were taking part in an illegal parade, but police Land Rovers – which have previously been attacked – were not present on the ground.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland area commander in Derry City, Chief Supt Gillian Kearney, said police believe the petrol bombs prepared by young people before the parade “would have been used to attack police had the opportunity arose”. She said it was “incredibly sad and really disheartening to see young people, including children”, involved in such disorder.

“Using young people in this way, risking their safety and encouraging them to engage in criminality is reprehensible,” she said.

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said what had unfolded in Creggan on Easter Monday, and in particular the attacks on journalists, was “extremely disappointing and completely unnecessary”. He said there was a sense that in the absence of a visible police target, journalists became “almost like a consolation prize”.

“We are supporting those affected and have commenced an investigation with a view to bringing those responsible to justice,” he said.

The attacks have been widely condemned by politicians in Derry.

Mr Dooley said such behaviour “has no place in a democratic society” and coming just a few weeks before the anniversary of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee – who was shot dead by dissident republicans in Derry in April 2019 – was a “profoundly depressing development.

“To see again young men carrying petrol bombs and masked men marching in paramilitary uniforms is very disturbing,” Mr Dooley said.

“There was a clear strategy in place to intimidate photographers and to attempt to intimidate individual members of the media corps.

“These people do not represent the people of Creggan or the community of Derry,” he said, adding that “they do not have a mandate to dictate the terms on which journalists cover news stories in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Dooley said the union sent “solidarity to all journalists who covered events and to those who were the subject of harassment” and said “greater efforts must be made to encourage young people to steer clear of violence”.

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