Riots in Northern Ireland: ‘Still a split society’

In several Northern Ireland cities it has been restless in the evening since last weekend. Among other things, in Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Londonderry were riots. Rolors set fire to cars and chew the police with Molotov cocktails, metal rods, manhole covers and stones. At least 41 agents have been injured so far.

Last night, too, it was hit again, despite repeated calls to stop by force. Where did the anger eruption come from?

A journalist from the BBC tweeted these vigorous footage of riots in Newtownabbey, from last Saturday:

The anger comes from Protestant, pro-British corner. The Protestant Unionists want nothing more than to stay with the United Kingdom. However, according to them, the relationship with Great Britain is in jeopardy because of the trade agreements introduced after Brexit.

The UK and European Union trade agreement agreed that there will be no ‘hard’ land border between the EU Member of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Although Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom, it is given a separate status. Northern Ireland continue to follow the European Union‘s trade rules after Brexit. The result is a customs border by sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

โ€œ This customs border creates delays, packages that do not arrive, extra paperwork: it creates concrete problems,โ€ says correspondent Arjen van der Horst. โ€œIt has already led to empty shelves in the supermarket and price increases, because those extra checks cost money. There are also companies based in England that have temporarily ceased trade with Northern Ireland. Everyone suffers from it.โ€

The hard land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has not been established to protect the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. From 1969 to 1998, a bloody battle was fought between the Catholic-Republican paramilitary organization IRA on the one hand and the British authorities and Protestant paramilitary groups on the other. The conflict has entered the history books as The Troubles. The Good Friday Accords put an end to that battle.

โ€œ The peace agreement may have been signed, but the real reconciliation has yet to take place,โ€ says Van der Horst. โ€œNorthern Ireland is still a split society, in which Catholics and Protestants live largely separate from each other.โ€ Brexit has put everything on focus in Northern Ireland. Protestants are pro-British, and for Brexit, Catholics want to remain one united Ireland and with the European Union.

According to Van der Horst, Protestant unionists feel that a gap has emerged between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. โ€œThe Northern Ireland Protocol, these trade agreements, they see as a prelude to Irish reunification. That’s a nightmare scenario for them. They feel treated differently than other British.โ€

The conflict between Ireland and Northern Ireland has a long history:

The new customs border over the Irish Sea is not the only thing causing unrest in the Protestant Unionist community. Protestant rioters have also focused their anger on Northern Ireland police chief Simon Byrne in recent days. This has to do with the funeral of former IRA leader Bobby Storey, where 2000 people visited last year and where politicians from the Republican party were Sinn Fรฉin. No one adhered to the coronation rules, and the police didn‘t intervene.

โ€œ Last week, the Northern Ireland Public Prosecutor’s Office announced not to prosecute anyone who was present at the funeral. They gave the reason for the Northern Irish police having consulted the organisers of the funeral beforehand. They couldn‘t go back to those appointments anymore. Protestants are angry about this,โ€ says Van der Horst.

The Unionist parties have called upon Byrne to resign because their trust in him has been violated.

Always tensions

Years ago, foreign newspapers were full of reports of tensions in Northern Ireland. But since the 1998 peace agreements, this has been a lot less. โ€œThat gives the impression that it is quiet, but that is not the case. There are riots with the police every year, Protestants and Catholics continue to pester each other,โ€ says Van der Horst. โ€œViolence has never completely disappeared here.โ€

The last few days mainly young people went out to the streets. Ten rioters have been identified, including two children aged 13 and 14. According to Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the young people are โ€œfrustrated by last week’s eventsโ€. Yet she called on them not to do things that destroy their own lives, writes the BBC.

In turn, the Sinn Fรฉin party accuses the DUP of โ€œfeeding the young people with misinformation and liesโ€. That would make them think their identity is threatened,whereas according to the Republican Party, that is not true.