Published: Thu, April 08, 2021

Fresh Unrest In Northern Ireland Sparks Comparisons To 'The Troubles'

Fresh Unrest In Northern Ireland Sparks Comparisons To 'The Troubles'

The recent violence, largely in pro-British loyalist areas, has flared amid rising tensions over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland and worsening relations between the parties in the Protestant-Catholic power-sharing Belfast government.

The riots, which saw petrol bombs and missiles thrown at officers, vehicles torched and a bus hijacked, has been concentrated in the province's unionist and loyalist communities.

People also lobbed bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs Wednesday night in both directions over a concrete "peace wall" that separates Protestant, British loyalist and Catholic, Irish nationalist neighborhoods. Northern Ireland remains in the single market for goods and applies European Union customs rules at its ports, the protocol moved the regulatory and customs border to the Irish Sea, with a series of checks, and obligatory certifications now additionally required for many goods to be shipped into the region from other parts of Great Britain, causing dissatisfaction among loyalists in Northern Ireland, who feel it creates a border between them and the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland has seen sporadic outbreaks of street violence since the 1998 Good Friday peace accord ended the Troubles - decades of Catholic-Protestant bloodshed over the status of Northern Ireland in which more than 3,000 people died. "These are scenes we haven't seen in Northern Ireland for a very long time, they are scenes that many people thought were consigned to history".

Northern Ireland leaders will meet to be briefed on the violence at 10am, before the Stormont assembly is to be recalled to discuss the unrest.

First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attack, saying: "There is no justification for violence".

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for his part, expressed serious concern over "the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland", stressing differences should be resolved at the negotiating table, not through "violence or criminality".

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's Belfast-based assembly and government held emergency meetings Thursday and called for an end to the violence.

"We should all know that when politics are perceived to fail, those who fill the vacuum cause despair", said Foster, who heads the Northern Ireland government. But unionists say the new checks amount to a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. They fear that undermines the region's place in the United Kingdom and could bolster ties with the Irish Republic, strengthening calls for a united Ireland.

The deal has been particularly controversial in Northern Ireland, as the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, created to avoid a hard border between the province and the Republic of Ireland, has resulted in the introduction of customs checks on goods from Great Britain to the province.

"This is nothing short of child abuse", she said.

Katy Hayward, a politics professor at Queen's University Belfast and senior fellow of the United Kingdom in a Changing Europe think tank, said unionists felt that "Northern Ireland's place is under threat in the union, and they feel betrayed by London".

The police service is accused by some Unionist leaders of having colluded with the republican Sinn Féin party to breach COVID regulations by allowing 2,000 mourners to attend the funeral of former IRA intelligence chief, Bobby Storey, last June.

The main unionist parties have demanded the resignation of Northern Ireland's police chief over the controversy, claiming he has lost the confidence of their community.

Regarding the bus attack in Belfast, she added in a subsequent post on Twitter: "This is not a protest".

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