Northern Ireland is experiencing a time of special tension . The last eight nights in Belfast have been marked by heavy rioting between protesters and the police . The incidents in this British-controlled province are the worst in years and highlight the discontent on the part of the public with London and with Prime Minister Boris Johnson .
For more than a week, the protests have left dozens of injured and detained and have led all the major Northern Irish and British parties to call for an end to the violence and move to political dialogue. What are these riots due to?
Initially the participants in the protests were mostly unionists and Protestants loyal to the British crown but later spread to the republican Catholic neighborhoods, favorable to a reunification of Ireland .
In the unionist ranks there is anger and the feeling of having been betrayed with the Brexit agreement signed between London and the European Union (EU), which aims to avoid, with special provisions, putting into question the peace signed in 1998 between unionists, mostly Protestants , and Republicans, mostly Catholic. They also feel betrayed because in that pact the British Government agreed that Northern Ireland would have different rules than the rest of the United Kingdom after Brexit.
Misled by Brexit
To avoid the return of a physical border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU , controls are carried out in the Northern Irish ports, something that the now ‘premier’ Johnson promised would not happen during the campaign in favor of leaving. of the community club.
But these new deals cut off supplies and are denounced by unionists as a de facto border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Unlike the rest of the British territory, Northern Ireland continues to be part of the European single market , a situation that has led to its separation with border crossings that slow down trade. Loyalist paramilitary groups announced a month ago the withdrawal of their support for the Good Friday Agreement that ended the armed struggle in 2005 in response to that maritime border, although they stressed that their position remains peaceful.
For Katy Hayward, a Brexit expert at Queen’s University Belfast, after downplaying this protocol on Northern Ireland before it went into effect on January 1, Boris Johnson is now paying the price. “It has had consequences. There was a lack of preparation on the part of companies for the new controls, and a lack of preparation on the ground in Northern Ireland of the implications,” he told AFP.
Added to the tension over that border is the unease over the decision not to prosecute the twenty leaders of the leftist and republican Sinn Féin party for participating last year along with a hundred people in a funeral for Bobby Story, historical leader of the Irish Republican Army ( IRA ), without respecting the restriction measures by the covid-19 .
The event was attended by the Chief Deputy Prime Minister of the Northern Irish Government, Michelle O’Neill, the current leader of the formation, Mary Lou McDonald . The decision has angered the other major Northern Irish party, the conservative Democratic Unionist Party ( DUP ).
The EU notes that the British Prime Minister was well aware of these consequences and that it is up to the British government to solve the problems. While the EU insists the protocol is here to stay, local government leader Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) calls for it to be removed.
Many point the finger at Boris Johnson, who advocated a radical break with the EU – a position supported by the DUP – leaving little room for compromise after he took office in Downing Street in July 2019.
In an urgent debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Thursday, the Northern Irish Minister of Justice, the centrist Naomi Long , denounced the broken promises of the British government.
On the part of unionists, Northern Ireland’s differential treatment within the UK is fueling a sense of grievance, adding to existing tensions.
The spokesman for the European Commission, Daniel Ferrie , said for his part that the EU is “ready to find quick and pragmatic solutions”, but stressed that both parties must respect the protocol.