Several days of street riots in Northern Ireland , in which 55 policemen have been injured, have forced Boris Johnson to react. Frustration after the entry into force of Brexit is the main, but not the only cause of the deterioration of the situation.
On Thursday, after another night of fighting in Belfast, when groups of young people attacked the police and kidnapped and set fire to a bus, the British Prime Minister urgently sent the head of Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, to the provincial capital.to meet with local officials.
Lewis called on “all communities” to work together “to resolve the tensions” that the region is currently facing. The representatives of the shared Northern Irish Government put aside their differences and called for calm and an end to violence.
At a press conference, Jonathan Roberts, Acting Chief of the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI), said that the riots in Belfast had ” reached a scale not seen in recent years” . He affirmed that in the “sectarian violence” groups of the two communities, unionists and republicans, were involved.
The police have opened an investigation. What he said he was sure of was that it was a ” planned” action in advance, with the participants armed with a considerable number of rockets, thrown objects and incendiary bombs. Similar scenes have taken place in recent days in Derry, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus in the south-eastern Antrim region.
Betrayed by Brexit
Since the entry into force of Brexit, Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, continues to be part of the European single market , as stated in the Withdrawal Protocol. That creates a separation with the rest of the country and the imposition of border controls.
Apart from the many problems that these barriers have created, in imports and exports, including the shortage of certain products from Great Britain, what they have left in the pro-British community is the impression that the union has weakened and that Brexit brings them closer to the nationalists of the Republic of Ireland.
Unionists “feel betrayed ,” “that they have been left behind for all sorts of reasons,” Peter Hain told Sky News., who was minister for Northern Ireland. Hain accused Johnson of not being frank with the unionists.
In a letter addressed to the British Prime Minister and his Irish counterpart, Micheál Martin, loyalist paramilitary groups announced a month ago the withdrawal of their support for the Good Friday Agreement in protest of the border established in the Irish Sea. They clarified that their opposition to the Protocol would continue to be “peaceful and democratic.” The reality begins to be different.
Another event that has exacerbated the spirits has been the decision not to prosecute the twenty Sinn Féin leaders who attended the funeral in Belfast of the one of the top leaders of the IRA, Bobby Story. In the act, with the presence of the main Deputy Prime Minister of the Northern Irish Government, Michelle O’Neill, the current leader of the formation, Mary Lou McDonald, and her predecessor, the historic Gerry Adams, a hundred people marched past the restrictions imposed by covid-19.
The head of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and main minister, Arlene Foster , called for the resignation of the head of the PSNI, due to the way in which the police forces had managed the funeral.
Apart from political causes, organized crime, an endemic disease in the region, plays a role in the incidents. The riots have coincided with a series of seizures of drug caches by a faction of loyalists from the Ulster Defense Association (UDA).
The police denounce the participation of minors in the attacks, children of 12, 13 and 14 years old, and speak of “sinister elements” that “incite and support them, applaud and cheer”, manipulating the situation. Elements of other loyalist gangs, such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Red Hand Commando, are also linked to criminal and gangster activities