For nearly a week, Northern Ireland has been agitated by riots which began in the Unionist districts of Belfast attached to the British Crown. Catholic Republicans responded with violence.
Unionists and Republicans from the local government of Northern Ireland condemned with one voice on April 8 the “completely unacceptable and unjustifiable” violence that has rocked the British province in recent days, in a context of tensions exacerbated by Brexit.
Fire has been smoldering in Northern Ireland since the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the consequences of which are creating a feeling of betrayal among unionists attached to the British crown.
Originally, as AFP recalls, these clashes were mainly the result of unionists, mostly Protestants, fervent defenders of the attachment of the province to the United Kingdom. The local police warned that among them were paramilitary groups likely to stir up tensions.
Opposite, Republicans, especially Catholics, supporters of reunification with the Republic of Ireland, responded with violence, and the two clans attacked each other with gasoline bombs and projectiles. New violence is underway on the evening of April 8.
Tensions have agitated the province for a week and have resulted in projectiles being thrown and vehicles set on fire, mainly in loyalist areas with a Protestant majority, having injured more than 50 in the police.
Gates set alight at the peace line between between the Shankill Road and Lanark way interface in North Belfast. Crowds of a few hundred on each side throwing petrol bombs over in both directions. pic.twitter.com/LYnRmAETTY
– Emma Vardy (@EmmaVardyTV) April 7, 2021
They resurface the specter of three bloody decades of “Troubles” between Republicans, mainly Catholics in favor of reunification with Ireland, and Protestant unionists, who left 3,500 dead until the 1998 peace agreement.
More than 55 police officers injured since the start of the riots
“The destruction, violence and threats of violence are completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, regardless of the concerns existing in the communities,” local leaders said after an emergency meeting following another night of violence in Belfast.
In a joint statement, they said they were “gravely concerned” about the incidents. “Our political positions diverge on many points, but we are all united in our support for law and order,” they added, calling for an end to “attacks against the police, public services and communities”.
We had not seen unrest of this magnitude for several years in Belfast and elsewhere
Last week, violence first broke out in the city of Londonderry, before spreading to a loyalist district of Belfast and the surroundings of the Northern Irish capital during the Easter weekend.
On the evening of April 7, a crowd of up to 600 gathered in the Lanark Way area in west Belfast, police said. Vehicles were set on fire, including a moving bus, and Molotov cocktails were thrown on either side of metal barriers separating the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.
“We have not seen unrest of this magnitude for several years in Belfast and elsewhere,” said police official Jonathan Roberts. According to him, young people barely 13 or 14 years old in particular were “encouraged” by adults. 55 police officers have been injured since the start of the clashes, as well as a bus driver and a press photographer. Several people have also been arrested in recent days.
Violence condemned by Boris Johnson, the White House “worried”
The violence was condemned by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who according to the Press Association agency dispatched his Minister for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis to Belfast, as well as by Irish head of government Micheal Martin and the European Commission. .
He also spoke in the afternoon with his Irish counterpart, Micheal Martin.
“Stressing that violence is unacceptable, they called for calm,” Dublin said before adding: “It is through dialogue and work on the institutions set up by the Good Friday agreement. [qui a mis fin aux Troubles en 1998] that we must move forward ”.
The local Parliament, recalled in the middle of the Easter holidays to discuss the clashes, also condemned the violence. Speaking by videoconference, Unionist Prime Minister (DUP) Arlene Foster stressed that “political problems require political solutions”.
Denouncing a “dangerous escalation”, his deputy prime minister, Sinn Fein Republican Michelle O’Neill, accused loyalist paramilitary groups of inciting young teenagers to confront the police.
Justice Minister Naomi Long, of the centrist Alliance Party, for her part denounced the British government’s broken promises on Brexit, saying she has “sympathy for the people here who feel betrayed”.
The White House has also reacted and said it is “worried” in the face of this violence.
The 1998 peace agreement weakened
As AFP points out, the peace agreement signed in 1998 blurred the border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, but Brexit weakened this delicate balance, by requiring the introduction of customs controls between Kingdoms. United and European Union.
This solution – the Northern Irish Protocol -, found after tough negotiations, aims to avoid a return to a physical border on the island of Ireland by moving controls in Northern Irish ports.
Despite a grace period intended to allow businesses to adjust, the new arrangements, which effectively keep Northern Ireland in the European customs union and single market, are causing supply disruptions.
Stoking tensions, the Northern Irish authorities decided not to prosecute officials of the Republican Party Sinn Fein who had attended the funeral of a former paramilitary leader despite the restrictions in force against the coronavirus.