The resurgence of violence threatens to lead N Ireland to the past
For those who have been working on building a new Northern Ireland for the past 23 years since the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement. violence last week he has seen children repeating 12 scenes from the three decades of sectarian conflict problems.
When oil bombs were set up on the so-called “wall of peace” that separated the loyalist and nationalist community of West Belfast, police and local leaders were tired of gathering local riots against the riots.
“Local communities do not want to be dragged into the past,” said superintendent Simon Walls, the Belfast district commander, after the arrest of two boys aged 13 and 14 after incidents in the southern Belfast area. Sandy Row last Friday.
But a week later fires were still raging in west Belfast, with violence initially confined to loyalist neighborhoods spilling over into adjacent nationalist areas. he calls for calm Leaders of the UK and Ireland and the White House on Wednesday.
Ignoring them, police were forced to open a water cannon on Thursday night when gangs of rival communities gathered mainly on Shankill Road and mostly Nationalists on Springfield Road to fight again.
A further 19 officers from the Northern Ireland Police Service were injured in the process, with 74 injured in nine days of violence.
The atmosphere calmed down on Friday. Father Martin Magill of St John’s Parish in Belfast said: “It looks like there will be less tension at night on the streets of the Loyalist side.” Magill was one of 15 clergymen in 15 communities, with short services calling for peace and reflection on the nearby Catholic Falls Road and the Protestant Shankill.
With the death of Prince Philip, he said he expected fewer protests on the part of the loyalist side, which led to calls for an end to the protests. On the patriotic side, Magille said community groups have done a lot of work to “keep young people out of the riots,” including keeping youth centers open on Friday nights.
Andrew Cunning, director of Left Side Up, a non-aligned and progressive Christian organization in Belfast that works to overcome old sections, has shown the challenges facing the region, despite the more than two decades of peace provided by the 1998 agreement. .
“The generation born in peace, under the banners of the ceasefire and the sharing of power, is recovering scenes that have no memories now,” he wrote, as part of a collection of reflections of basic young workers.
Brexit sparks tensions
The origins of the violence have long-term and short-term reasons, according to longtime analysts and regional political and community leaders.
In the short term, tensions have risen since January, especially among Protestant unionist communities over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK’s 2019 Brexit treaty, which has created a trade barrier in the Irish Sea. All unionist parties have called for its abolition.
The spark of protest came at the end of last month after Sinn Féin decided not to prosecute nationalist politicians Funeral of the former IRA leader Bobby Storey broke the Covid-19 rules last June.
Violent protests took place in loyalist enclaves in Belfast, Londonderry and north of Belfast, as unionist political leaders demanded the resignation of regional police chief Simon Byrne.
Police blamed “banned organizations” – loyalist paramilitary groups that have survived as criminals since the end of the problems – in part for orchestrating violence seen as revenge for recent drug riots against gangs.
But the combination of long-term structural issues caused by unionist anxieties about Brexit and the sectarian separation of Catholic and Protestant housing and education in working class communities, along with persistent areas of poverty, makes it difficult to see a path, according to Stephen Farry. , The North Down parliamentary party of the Alliance between the centrist party and the community
“The problem is that unionism has decided to frame protocol as an identity issue, and it’s very difficult to see how you round it up and put your genius in the bottle,” Farry said.
For Brian Rowan, a longtime reporter and author in Ireland Political Purgatory, A new book in which Northern Ireland can escape the shadows of the past, unionism and the loyalist community are living in a “time of trauma”.
The imposition of the Brexit border on the Irish Sea, the growing debate over the options for a united Ireland and the census to be shown for the first time by Catholics and nationalists who make up the majority of Northern Ireland’s population this year have all left deep unrest from unionism.
“Together they are creating distance and inequality with the UK in the year they wanted to be a year of celebration of unionism,” he said.
However, tensions between the loyalist and unionist communities preparing to mark the centenary of the founding of Northern Ireland on May 3 are “still controllable,” said Belfast City Councilor John Kyle of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), with historic ties to loyalist paramilitaries.
While there is real loyalist anger against the protocol, he says the contributing factor to the latest violence is the so-called “leisure riots” – bored young people disgusted with old-fashioned detention – but there is no deep support for the wider loyalist community.
“Most people think it’s a very bad idea. It means Republicans can sit down because unionists are hurting their community and their cause. People in the middle think this is crazy,” he said.
Conservative partner Lord Jonathan Caine, who has advised six secretaries in Northern Ireland, said ensuring greater flexibility for the EU should be a short-term goal of implementing the protocol, but would not address the basic challenges facing the region.
“Loyalist incidents are not a dissatisfaction with the Northern Ireland protocol. We need to get back to how we build a shared future for Northern Ireland, otherwise that will be repeated and repeated, ”he said.
On Friday night on Lanark Way, a bush a few hundred yards from the West Belfast junction marked the wreckage of a bus, a group of men raised placards that delayed protests “as a mark of respect for the Queen and the royal family” after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death. the men stated that they hoped the signal would be respected, emphasizing the possibility of a quieter night ahead – at least on the loyalist sides of the peace line.
“Violence goes against everything we try to do to many of us,” said loyal activist Stacey Graham, who works on the Greater Shankill Alternatives SAFE project.
“The Lanark Way has always been about interface violence, organized fighting, etc., but I think the tensions in Northern Ireland at the moment and the drivers of the problems that are igniting the fire have increased massively,” he said.