ATTACKS on ambulance staff working during the Eleventh Night have been condemned by the head of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).
Michael Bloomfield said 11 staff were assaulted while on duty through the late hours of July 11 and the early hours of July 12.
In one incident at a bonfire in Carrickfergus, five members of staff — including a student paramedic — were punched, kicked, bitten and spat at before having threats made on their lives.
Sinn Féin branded the assaults ‘sickening’, while UUP leader Doug Beattie blasted the hypocrisy of those who condemn IRA chants but not the assaults at Eleventh Night events.
In a statement on Thursday, the NIAS said 11 staff were assaulted during ‘an unprecedented six-hour period’ spanning July 11 and 12 — one of its busiest times of year.
The attacks occurred at four locations where NIAS staff were called to provide medical assistance.
As well as the Carrickfergus assaults, staff were also targeted in the Forthriver area of Belfast, Belfast city centre and in the Ballymacash area of Lisburn.
Mr Bloomfield, Chief Executive of the NIAS, said the 11 staff assaulted should have been able to carry out their duties serving the community without fear of being attacked.
“It is absolutely disgraceful that during the night they should be abused in the manner in which they were, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” he said.
He added: “I can only imagine the fear these dedicated staff must have experienced in the face of this aggression.
“I understand that the vast majority of people appreciate the efforts of our crews but that would have been of little comfort to them at that time.
“Our staff, and all emergency services staff, need the full support of everyone in the community, and I would appeal to anyone who has information that may lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of these attacks, to bring that information to PSNI.”
Mr Bloomfield said such attacks can seriously impact the response to emergency calls as crews are stood down and cover is reduced, ultimately putting lives at risk.
Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon offered her support to those affected.
“It’s totally unacceptable that 11 ambulance staff were subject to physical and verbal abuse and threats while responding to calls on the night of July 11,” said the party’s health spokesperson.
“My immediate thoughts and solidarity is with all those ambulance staff who were on the receiving end of these sickening attacks.
“There must be a zero-tolerance approach to physical and verbal abuse towards our health workers who are there to provide an emergency service and to keep people safe.
“Everyone should be able to turn up for work and to do their job free from threats, violence and intimidation.
“I would urge anyone with information on any of these attacks to bring it forward to the PSNI so that the individuals responsible can be held accountable under the law.”
‘Image of unionist gulture damaged’
Mr Beattie condemned the attacks, as well as other incidents that marred the Eleventh Night, such as effigies and flags being burned and an arson attack at the home of an Aontú party member.
“The placing of flags and effigies on bonfires, the assault of ambulance staff and the burning of a car belonging to a paediatric nurse and former election candidate for Aontú have shown the very worst in some people,” he said.
“In these cases, it is clear, a criminal offence has been committed but it has also damaged the image of the Twelfth and Unionist culture, history and identity.”
Mr Beattie also criticised those who have complain about incidents attributed to members of the nationalist and republican communities but remained silent following this week’s issues.
“Those who complain around individuals singing pro-IRA songs, itself hurtful to many victims, then remain silent when this activity takes place are hypocrites,” he said.
“Those who stoke the fires of intolerance and hate must take responsibility for their actions and words.
“As a Unionist I want to promote our shared history, culture and traditions but the actions of some shame us all.”