What are the riots happening in Northern Ireland right now? Everything you need to know
Riots have been ongoing this week
This year, Unionists in Northern Ireland will celebrate the 100th anniversary since its creation. In those years however, tensions between both communities have regularly spilled over and as a result over 3,500 people have died in the Troubles, due to disagreements on whether NI should remain in the UK or join a United Ireland.
Despite a peace process installed in 1998 through the Good Friday Agreement, the fragility of peace has been shown for nearly a week now, with tensions having risen again in Northern Ireland. There have been riots and protests in predominantly Protestant, Loyalist and Unionist areas – that is, the groups of people in Northern Ireland who support membership of the UK and oppose Irish reunification.
What is happening in Northern Ireland at the moment is tricky to define, specifically because there are a number of contributing factors to take into consideration.
Here’s everything you need to know about the riots – what’s happening in Northern Ireland right now, and why:
Brexit has led to issues and the ‘Irish Sea Border’
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 and launched a commitment to a long lasting peace process. It brought an end to 30 years of armed conflict between the two communities and removed hard border infrastructure between NI and the Republic of Ireland.
In 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union by 52 per cent, 56 per cent of Northern Ireland voted to remain. For a long time now, the idea that Brexit is a threat to the Good Friday Agreement has been a reoccurring debate in national political discourse.
With NI leaving the EU and the Republic remaining in it, to ensure with consistent checks and balances between the EU and UK, hard border infrastructure was looking increasingly likely in Ireland. To resolve this, an agreement was made that NI would remain in the EU Single Market which promises tariff free trading in the regional bloc of EU member states. However, this means new challenges are presented between goods coming from Britain to the island of Ireland, bringing about the “Irish Sea Border”.
From a trade perspective the entire island of Ireland has been reunified. But, because NI remains in the UK, the Sea Border has angered Unionists. They feel it drags them away from the UK and are demanding that NI is treated no differently than the rest of the UK, despite the risks which any alternative may have in compromising the peace agreement and reinstating a hard border.
Some critical voices have however argued NI has always been treated differently to the rest of the UK, thus reducing the impact of the argument made by Unionists. They feel the Irish Sea Border insults their right to identify as British under both the Agreement and membership of the UK.
There’s been criticism and resentment over handling of the Bobby Storey funeral
In June 2020 during the height of Covid-19 infections in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, the second largest party in NI were strongly criticised for attending the funeral of senior IRA member Bobby Storey.
At the funeral was Michelle O’Neill – the party’s Uachtarán (Vice President) and Deputy First Minister of NI. There was a lot of criticism over this as the pandemic had meant that many people who died of coronavirus had not been able to bury their loved ones.
O’Neill denied any wrongdoing but later made a public apology for any hurt which she had caused to voters. However, an investigation by the Public Prosecution Service concluded there was no wrongdoing, further angering Unionists, many of who feel they can longer trust policing in NI.
Between Brexit compromising the Britishness of Unionists, and the feeling of resentment that Sinn Féin funeral attendees cannot be held to account, the present violence has emerged.
What’s happening in Northern Ireland with the riots now?
As Northern Ireland celebrates its centenary this year marking 100 years since the Irish Partition in 1921, the ongoing disturbances have reinforced how the working classes are dragged into sectarian spillovers every time.
The height of the riots have been seen in parts of South and West Belfast, with rioters throwing petrol bombs at one of the remaining peace barrier interfaces on Lanark Way, late on Wednesday evening.
The disturbances on Wednesday also included the hijacking of a Translink bus which was later petrol bombed by rioters, with videos surfacing across social media of the vehicle being left t0 burn out.
Following the SDLP motion to recall the NI Assembly from its Easter break, and the debate brought to the Assembly yesterday (April 8th) by Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, all parties have asked for rioters to step down their efforts before someone is killed.
This morning, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis met with the five main political parties to discuss strategic approaches to eliminating violence.
However, violence continued into the night last night across parts of Belfast and Derry, despite condemnation from politicians and the police use of controversial water cannons to disperse rioters.
What may happen in Northern Ireland from the riots?
All parties in the NI Executive have agreed that the violence must come to an end. Whilst the myriad of reasons why the violence is happening have been discussed, the two main parties at the Executive table continue to reinforce the zero-sum nature of peace process politics in NI, arguing instead that there is one factor of the violence as opposed to the multiple contributions already visible.
With the Secretary of State meeting with the parties to discuss an end to violence, the long term recovery from both the present tensions and from the pandemic could lead to further instability across NI.
Featured image via SWNS