Northern Ireland riots: What's behind the recent violence in Northern Ireland?

On March 29, police were attacked in a gasoline bomb attack in a largely unionized area of ​​Tullymore, Derry, Londonderry, after an attempt to break into a crowd of around 40 people. Similar scenes played out in the city for five nights.

On Friday April 2nd, the disruption spread to South Belfast, where A small protest led to an attack on police in a loyalist bag on Sandy Row, in which 15 police officers were burned, head and leg injured.

Belfast District Command Commander-in-Chief Simon Walls said officials “faced sustained attack from rioters who threw a range of objects at the police, including heavy masonry, metal poles, fireworks and manhole covers”.

Why is this happening?

The first days of the mess came the same week when authorities said they would not prosecute leaders of the nationalist party Sinn Fein for allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions last summer when they attended a funeral for Bobby Storey, one former senior figure in the IRA, a paramilitary group that led a decade-long campaign for an independent and reunited Ireland.

Storey’s funeral drew around 2,000 people.

Loyalist communities have accused the authorities of partisan hypocrisy over this decision, saying they made the decision to cancel their traditional parades on July 12th last summer because of Covid-19 and missed events and attended family funerals for complying with these restrictions.

However, many analysts also point to recent and successful police crackdowns against drug gangs and criminal activities supported and pursued by loyalist paramilitary forces.

Who is excited?

Most of the rioters are young people, with some participants as young as 12 years old, according to the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI).

The first days of violence, which escalated over the Easter weekend, took place in predominantly loyalist areas in the cities of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry, as well as in the cities of Newtownabbey, Ballymena and Carrickfergus.

That dynamic changed, however, on Wednesday in West Belfast, where rioters from loyalist and nationalist communities clashed along the so-called Peace Line – a closed wall that separates mostly union and nationalist neighborhoods.

At one point, police tried to close a gate to separate the areas during the violence where gasoline bombs, bottles, masonry and fireworks were thrown.

At times, more than 600 people were present, the police said.

The previous Wednesday, a bus was also hijacked and set on fire on Lanark Way near the intersection with Shankill Road, where a press photographer was also attacked.

In some videos of the disorder shared on social media, adults can be seen cheering and encouraging children to commit acts of violence, raising deep-seated concerns that the violence may be orchestrated by paramilitary groups.

On Thursday, the PSNI said they were still trying to confirm “whether or not paramilitary groups were involved in the riot”. Police did not say there was paramilitary involvement, but PSNI Interim Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Roberts said it was “clear that the violence shows some degree of organization”.

Clashes broke out on Springfield Road in Belfast on Thursday evening, with protesters throwing stones at police vehicles on the nationalist side of the peace line. Officers in riot gear with dogs and a water cannon moved in to disperse those involved.

The South Belfast UPRG was the first loyalist group to call for an end to the disruption on Thursday. The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), a group made up of union paramilitaries and also affiliated with the UPRG, said in a statement Friday that “none of its associated groups was directly or indirectly involved in the recent violence on days.” It added that “the right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right,” but that all measures taken by members of the loyalist community “should be perfectly peaceful”.

The PSNI ruled out the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries in orchestrating the violence on Friday and appeared to be downgrading their previous assessment.

At a press conference, Roberts said her “overall assessment” was that the violence that had occurred “is not being orchestrated by a group on behalf of that group”.

“There are certainly people involved in violence who have nothing to do with an illegal organization,” he said.

“We believe that there may be some people who may have a connection with banned organizations that have been present at the scenes of violence, but we do not believe that this has been sanctioned and organized by mandatory organizations for peaceful protest,” he added added.

There were “reports of disruption” in the Tiger Bay area of ​​Belfast on Friday evening, PSNI said in a statement. Media footage from the area revealed that a car was set on fire as riot police lined the street on Friday night. The police did not specifically address this incident.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Northern Ireland Police Superintendent Muir Clark said: “We ask for calm in the area and ask anyone who has influence on the communities to use that influence to ensure that young people are not involved in crime become.” and that they are safe and safe from harm tonight. “

What does Brexit have to do with it?

The riots unfold amid growing anger over a specific part of the Brexit deal.

Tensions in Northern Ireland have increased since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016. However, anger over a specific part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, called the Northern Ireland Protocol, is a major point of contention. During the Brexit negotiations, all parties largely agreed that an agreement would respect the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement known as the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in 2019: “We will under no circumstances inspect or carry out any checks.” near the border in Northern Ireland. We will respect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. “The EU is taking legal action against Great Britain for violating the Brexit Agreement and international law

The GFA marked an end to problems – a term used to describe the period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s until it was signed in 1998.

The peace agreement also began dismantling border controls between the North and the Republic of Ireland, and in 2006 the last watchtower was demolished.

After the UK left the EU (and its internal market), a new plan – the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol – was implemented.

The NI Protocol aims to remove the need for border controls between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (EU member).

Instead, a de facto border is being created along the Irish Sea as goods coming from the UK to Northern Ireland are subject to EU controls. The move that has angered pro-British unionists including Northern Ireland’s first female minister Arlene Foster and her party, the Democratic Unionist Party, who argue the deal threatens the future of the union.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long said Wednesday that “the UK government’s dishonesty and lack of clarity on these issues have contributed to a sense of anger in parts of our community”. The government downplayed the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.

Long told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today program that the government knew that the consequences of Brexit would “be felt most clearly in Northern Ireland, where identity problems are linked to border problems”.

Last month the Loyalist Communities Council announced it would withdraw its support for the GFA, also known as the Belfast Agreement.

“Is there a political will to deal with the trade problem – or is the EU playing quickly and easily with the peace in Northern Ireland to punish the UK for voting for independence?” David Trimble – former Northern Ireland First Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for his role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement – asked in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

What are the political leaders saying?

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin – known as Taoiseach – and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke on Thursday.

“They stressed that violence is unacceptable and demanded calm,” said a statement from Martin’s office.

“The way forward is through the dialogue and work of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” he added.

On Thursday, the White House joined the leaders of Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland to voice concerns about the violence. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price warned that the GFA should not become a “victim of Brexit”.

Long, Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister, has urged people “to stop before lives are lost”.

At an emergency meeting of the Northern Irish government on Thursday, First Minister Arlene Foster said the violence had tarnished the country’s reputation in its centenary.

“We should all know well that those who fill the vacuum offer destruction and despair when politics in Northern Ireland fails or is perceived as having failed. We cannot allow a new generation of our young people to fall victim to this path, or is being followed by someone who prefers shadows to light, “Foster told the Northern Irish Congregation.

Are there any signs that the violence is subsiding?

Both communities appeal to calm. However, it is not clear if this call will be heard.

On Friday, loyalist groups canceled unauthorized band parades that were scheduled for the weekend as a token of respect for Prince Philip, who passed away on Friday.

Protests are expected in the region on Saturday, the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday-Belfast agreement.

Journalist Peter Taggart, CNN’s Emmet Lyons, Amy Cassidy and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.