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Fire is smoldering in Northern Ireland. Tensions culminated in a week of riots resulting in projectiles being thrown and vehicles set on fire, mainly in loyalist areas with a Protestant majority. Several police officers were injured – 55 since the start of the clashes, according to the police – as well as a bus driver and a photographer from the Belfast Telegraph, Kevin Scott. Unionists and Republicans from Northern Ireland’s local government jointly condemned the violence on Thursday (April 8th) “Completely unacceptable and unjustifiable” who have rocked the constituent nation in recent days, calling for calm.

  • Wounds far from being closed

On the night of Wednesday to Thursday, protesters, often young, gathered on Lanark Way in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bus was set on fire and Molotov cocktails thrown in the direction of the metal barriers that separate the Catholic and Protestant districts of the city.

After six nights of violence in Londonderry, Carrickfergus and Belfast, the Northern Irish authorities met on Thursday in an emergency. In a statement, the Northern Ireland Executive – the executive branch of the government of Northern Ireland, headed by Prime Minister Arlene Foster (a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, the DUP, which advocates maintaining a form of political union between the province of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom), assisted by Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill (member of Sinn Féin, who wants the reunification of the north and the south) – said:

“The destruction, violence and threats of violence [sont] completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, whatever the concerns existing in the communities ”.

Northern Irish authorities say “Seriously concerned” by the incidents which occurred especially in loyalist districts, favorable to the maintenance of the links with London.

The day before, Arlene Foster had tweeted: “It’s vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalty. “

These incidents bring up the specter of the three bloody decades of the “Troubles”, the civil war between Republicans – mainly Catholics in favor of reunification with Ireland – and Protestant unionists, which left 3,500 dead until the agreement of Peace of April 10, 1998, also known as the Good Friday Agreement.

Read also Twenty years after the Good Friday agreement, Ireland still on edge
  • Brexit, an agreement that does not pass

Thursday, Naomi Long, the Minister of Justice of the Northern Irish government, explained to see several causes for this conflagration. She particularly insisted on the entry into force of Brexit, whose unfulfilled promises weakened the delicate balance born of the Good Friday Agreement, which blurred the border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland.

As part of the Brexit negotiations, London and Brussels had come to an agreement on a solution, called the Northern Irish Protocol. It aims to preserve the peace treaty of the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding the return of a land border to the island of Ireland. Instead, he instituted a border in the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland retaining a foothold in the European internal market, while remaining a nation within the United Kingdom. Customs declarations must be made at ports and airports, even though it is the same country. On the other hand, there is no control for the movement of people. New provisions, which lead to disruptions in supplies.

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In early March, Boris Johnson was confronted, during a visit to Northern Ireland, with growing dissatisfaction with the consequences of Brexit. In favor of an outright abandonment of controls on goods from Great Britain, Arlene Foster ruled “Intolerable” the provisions which entered into force since 1er January. For her part, Michelle O’Neill refused to meet him, blaming him for his “Reckless and partisan approach” vis-à-vis the Northern Irish protocol.

Read also the report: Brexit remains a toxic topic in Northern Ireland
  • An absence of sanctions for non-compliance with health restrictions

Christopher Stalford, elected from the DUP, also stressed that the demonstrators “Acted out of frustration”. Indeed, at the end of March, the Northern Irish authorities decided not to prosecute 24 Sinn Fein officials who attended, at the end of June 2020, the funeral of Bobby Storey, who would have been the intelligence chief of the Irish Republican Army ( IRA), despite the restrictions in place against the coronavirus.

The presence in the crowd of Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald, the head of Sinn Fein in favor of the unification of Ireland, was seen as an arm of honor to the fragile political balance in the province.

It doesn’t matter if Michelle O’Neill has apologized for not following the rules of physical distancing. Major Unionist parties have called on Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI) chief Simon Byrne to step down, saying communities have lost confidence in his authority. Arlene Foster asserted that the population’s adherence to the restrictions was threatened due to the loss of confidence in law and order caused by the decision not to prosecute members of Sinn Fein.

Finally, police operations against drug trafficking in County Antrim, over which the Ulster Defense Association (UDA, a loyalist Protestant paramilitary organization involved in the North Irish conflict) has helped to stir up tensions. in the province.

  • Calls for calm multiply

“The way to resolve disputes is through dialogue and not through violence or crime”, Boris Johnson tweeted late Wednesday while sharing his “Deep concern”.

For his part, Micheal Martin, the Irish Prime Minister, called on the leaders of Dublin, Belfast and London to join forces to end it.

The head of Irish diplomacy, Simon Coveney, was even more explicit. On the public channel RTE, he said on Thursday:

“It has to stop before anyone is killed or seriously injured. These are scenes that we haven’t seen in Northern Ireland for a very long time, they are scenes that a lot of people thought were history and I think a collective effort is needed to relieve the tension. “

On Twitter, Jennifer Cassidy, Irish researcher in diplomacy at the University of Oxford, wonders about the relative silence of the British media:

“If this violence were to take place in any other part of the UK there would be 24 hour media coverage, calls for calm, for peace, speeches for hours in Parliament. But because it’s Northern Ireland, you think what to say: Do not do that will suffice? Respond. “

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