Last week’s riots in Northern Ireland drew world attention. The specter of bus firefighters, gas bombers and participation in battles with the police in Belfast have recalled disturbing memories of violence associated with “The Troubles”, the conflict that has caused scarring the area for 30 years from the late 1960s to the present late 1990s.
Perhaps the saddest element of this story is that the protagonists are largely teenagers, from loyal communities (unions) who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. These teenagers are often referred to as “ceasefire children” – that is, children born after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was enacted, ending the violence.
A variety of factors have been promoted in account of the new increase in stress. The most commonly cited reason is the dissatisfaction of the member community with the Northern Ireland Protocol attached to the Brexit Agreement. That agreement allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the European Union’s single market and tariff union while protecting its constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom.
Despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s continued reassurance that there will be no disruption to trade between the UK and Northern Ireland after Brexit, the first quarter of the year saw significant new barriers to trade. appear. Many union members felt betrayed by London for the “Irish sea frontier”, which Johnson promised would never come true, has now become an active presence in their lives. That anger and frustration is being felt on the street. It may be a bit allusional and even exaggerated, but it is still perceptible in reunited communities.
At the same time, nationalists led by Sinn Féin, the Irish republican, are talking about the prospect of achieving a united Ireland and demanding a “border poll” (referendum) in near future. A broader conversation about what a united Ireland might look like is underway both in the north and in the Republic of Ireland and this has had the foreseeable impact of arousing anxiety in the union members.
Brexit thus brought back a form of “identity politics” that was familiar and for many unwelcome Northern Ireland, one that has proved extremely disturbing to an the political and constitutional order is still fragile.
Where the Good Friday Agreement fits both British and Irish identities within the broader federal political framework, Brexit has encouraged a resurgence of identity polarization, understood as a game of sums. zero where “win” for the nationalists is considered a “loser” for the congregationalists. .
And in the reunited communities there is a particularly strong feeling, encouraged by political leaders, that the nationalists are winning every battle and are getting closer to achieving. to be a united Ireland like never before. For example, the prospect of the Irish Language Act, which would give the Irish language equal status compared to English in Northern Ireland, is presented not only as a victory for nationalists but also as a winner. Another nail in the coffin of cultural and political unification. This comes at a time when political demographics are first projected towards a nationalist majority in Northern Ireland.
Many commentators have pointed out that the rebellious young people have little or any knowledge of the Brexit Protocol and constitutional issues. Instead, they point to specific factors in a number of loyal communities that explain a bustling street atmosphere.
First, these communities have experienced little or no “peace dividends” over the past 23 years. Poverty and deprivation associated with underperformance education and high unemployment scars both the nationalist and loyalist regions of Belfast. According to Professor Colin Coulter, who has spent nearly three decades researching these communities, these are “sites of multi-generational poverty”. The most deprived areas of the Trouble remained some of the most deprived in Northern Ireland.
In some loyalist regions, however, these problems are compounded by the menacing presence of paramilitary gangs engaged in drug trafficking and various forms of extortion and deception. The recent success of the Northern Ireland Police Department (PSNI) in suppressing some of these groups is believed to be a reason for a confrontation with the police.
Loyal thugs literally knocked out teenagers in their community to confront the police head-on as a way of hitting law enforcement. Consequently, these kids are forced to “make money,” as a respected commentator, Dearbhail McDonald, reported on the Sunday Independent. Such paramilitary groups, McDonald argued, were also threatened by the prospect of imposing an unexplained get-rich order in Northern Ireland, used in the UK, aimed at individuals and groups participating in Criminal activities do not count their property.
His loyal anger at PSNI also stems from his decision not to prosecute 24 politicians Sinn Féin who defied COVID-19 regulations to attend the funeral of Bobby Storey, a former special operative of the Irish Republican Army. IRA), June 2020. First Minister. Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Union Party (DUP) has called for the resignation of PSNI Head of Association Simon Byrne after prosecutors decided not to prosecute representatives of Sinn Fein. Foster blamed senior police officers for “facilitating” the funeral.
Whatever the nuances of the legal stance surrounding prosecution decisions, it is clear that the anger of the broader union community on the matter has contributed to increased sentiment against PSNI. and taken advantage of by some loyal forces determined to wreak havoc on the streets.
Beyond the relatively limited terrain where last week’s events took place, it is clear that trade unionism is going through a deep and profound crisis. The DUP campaigned for Brexit on the basis that the non-EU UK would make a unified Ireland much more difficult to achieve. In fact, the opposite has happened and a united Ireland is currently being discussed in a way that seemed rare before 2016.
Next year will see new elections for the Northern Ireland Parliament. It is likely that this election will see Sinn Féin win the largest number of seats for the first time. That means Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O ‘Neill, will become the first minister in the new Northern Ireland Executive (government), with the leadership of the DUP (current First Minister). Arlene Foster, effectively “demoted” to First Vice-Minister in the complex shared powers put forth by the Good Friday Agreement.
Symbol of unionism’s primary enemy – Sinn Féin, indelibly linked in unionists’ minds to the atrocities of the IRA – Northern Ireland’s leadership may have been too much for Foster and Other union leaders. But if the members are not prepared to serve in the executive office led by Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland could fall into new political turmoil.
Elections to the Northern Ireland Parliament will be held in 2024 by the first vote on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Under the terms of the Brexit agreement, the Council will have to vote on whether or not to accept the Protocol to continue. If the trade unions decide to boycott this vote, the full legality of the Protocol will be questioned. The timing of any potential Scottish referendum on independence – likely to be held in 2024 as well – is likely to further destabilize Northern Ireland’s politics.
In summary, last week’s violence on the streets of Belfast could on the one hand be caused by both close and local causes, and to the more general tensions that characterize post-Brexit inter-communal relationships. The trauma of the past continues to weigh on current politics in Northern Ireland and that is unlikely to change as parallel challenges of administering the Protocol and preventing violence take hold in Belfast. , Dublin and London in the coming years.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.