Brexit riots in Northern Ireland: the peace process is at stake
Again there were nightly riots in Belfast. Part of the responsibility for the riots is an embarrassing aspect of the Brexit treaty.
After the worst riots in Northern Ireland in recent years, the governments in London and Dublin tried on Thursday to regain the initiative. After a special session of the Belfast regional parliament, the non-denominational all-party government condemned the violence of the past few days.
One was politically “very different opinion”, it said in a statement by leading politicians of the Protestant-unionist and Catholic-nationalist side. “But we support law and order together.”
As already over the Easter weekend, mainly young people rioted again on Thursday night. While the riots had previously been confined to Protestant neighborhoods, this time the conflict sparked off at a critical point in north Belfast. On Lanark Way, between the Catholic Springfield Road and the Protestant Shankill Road, hooded men fled a bus driver and set his vehicle on fire.
For hours, cobblestones, fireworks and bottles were thrown over the meter-high fences between the city quarters, cynically known as the “Peace Wall”. According to the police, 600 people were involved; Adults applauded teenagers and young men for the riot. Eight officers were injured; a Belfast Telegraph journalist was robbed and beaten down, and two young men were arrested.
Boris Johnson is “deeply concerned”
After days of silence, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “deeply concerned” about the events, while his Irish colleague Michéal Martin campaigned for tensions to be eased.
The conservatives who have ruled London since 2010 have never made the still fragile peace process, which ended the 30-year-old civil war in 1998 with more than 3,500 dead, their cause. After a series of incompetent ministers, Lewis’ predecessor Julian Smith managed with carrot and stick at the beginning of last year to reunite the deeply divided parties into the all-party government after it had been idle for three years. A few weeks after this triumph he was fired by Johnson.
The fact that the Prime Minister wants to hear as little as possible about Northern Ireland has to do with an embarrassing Brexit aspect. Under pressure from Brussels and Dublin, Johnson agreed to the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol in the exit agreement. This agreement keeps the land border on the Emerald Isle open, thereby guaranteeing that all of Ireland will remain in the internal market undisturbed. This created the need for limited customs and goods controls between the former troubled province and the British main island, which has left the internal market and customs union.
Brexiteers blame the EU
Johnson initially denied this fact, then downplayed its importance. The fact is: the shelves of leading supermarkets are always empty, and there are supply problems in the ports due to the time-consuming controls. The bureaucracy of the EU Commission is responsible for this, say the Brexiteers.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan, who headed the Northern Irish Police Ombudsman for many years, believes that if the government is bowing to the law, it shouldn’t be surprised that the people are doing a similar thing. Instead, London should set a good example, said the member of the House of Lords of the BBC: “We must work with the EU to adapt the Northern Ireland Protocol to reality.”