The “Walls of peace” are burning again in Northern Ireland. Since March 29, each night has brought its new batch of clashes and violence. Eleven nights of sporadic riots, which started in Derry, before spreading to Belfast and three neighboring cities (Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Newtownabbey), and which take place mainly in the Unionist community. Groups of teenagers, some as young as 12, armed with bricks, iron bars and Molotov cocktails, clash with security forces entrenched behind armored Land Rovers and water cannons. The young attackers are generally a few dozen, a few hundred in the worst case, often encouraged and applauded by adults, sometimes manipulated by unionist paramilitary groups.
The night of April 7-8 has been the worst so far, as the clashes moved out of Unionist neighborhoods (Protestants, who identify as British) to spread to Republicans (Catholics, who identify as Irish). In West Belfast, on either side of a high wall dividing the two communities, some six hundred young people threw projectiles at each other for several hours, Unionists on one side, Republicans on the other. Memory of the latent civil war which left 3,500 dead in 1969 and 1998, these walls surmounted by barbed wire end with doors which are still closed every night in certain neighborhoods, to avoid clashes.
Assessment for the moment: fifty wounded police officers, garbage cans and cars set on fire by the dozen, and a bus driver miraculously unharmed after a Molotov cocktail set his vehicle on fire. These “Worst riots in years”, according to the police, come back to which point the political situation remains flammable in Northern Ireland, twenty-three years after the agreement of Good Friday of 1998, which had made peace.
Violence with multiple ingredients
The eruption of violence in recent days is the result of a cocktail with multiple ingredients. The restrictions linked to Covid-19, in these very poor neighborhoods of Northern Ireland, are one of them, like other outbursts of violence elsewhere in Europe. The police raids in recent months against unionist paramilitary groups, which are linked to various trafficking, are another.
But the main ingredient in unionists’ anger comes from Brexit. Since 1er January, there is a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that is to say within the same country. While the movement of people is free, goods are, on the other hand, checked at the ports, and export declarations must be completed. For a Unionist, whose raison d’être is the unity of the United Kingdom, this is a nightmare. England, the ” Mother land “, suddenly moved away from Northern Ireland.
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