Northern Ireland is very concerned about a summer of potential unrest after the Easter days in the province were overshadowed by riots in many places. For several nights, groups of young Protestants took to the streets in their neighborhoods to start fires and use stones, bottles and incendiary bombs to crack down on the police. 32 police officers were injured in these clashes, some seriously. Numerous vehicles went up in flames. In loyalist strongholds such as the town of Portadown and the town of Markethill, hooded figures marched through the streets at unauthorized rallies, drumming, whistling and waving flags. Incendiary devices and bricks were hurled and police officers attacked at Derrys Waterside and Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus, near Belfast.
Among the participants in the riots were children between the ages of twelve and 13, according to police. The attacks were “clearly orchestrated”, complained Davy Beck, one of the police chiefs. “A small group of frustrated criminal elements” apparently incited the young people.
“This has to stop before it costs life”
Northern Ireland’s unionist Prime Minister Arlene Foster appealed to children and young people not to “let themselves be drawn into this unrest”. The attorney general of her administration, Naomi Long, who is a member of the small Alliance Party that is trying to balance things out, warned of an escalation of violence in view of the summer season of traditional pro and anti-British marches in Northern Ireland: “This has to stop before it costs lives becomes.”
The immediate cause of the Easter riot in the most militant Protestant neighborhoods was the controversial decision by the Belfast public prosecutor last week not to bring charges against 24 prominent Republicans who organized and attended a spectacular funeral for a Sinn Fein veteran in June last year had. A total of 2,000 Republicans took part in the funeral procession, including top Sinn Fein figures such as Northern Ireland’s Vice Prime Minister Michelle O ?? Neill – although the Covid rules would have allowed a maximum of 30 people to be present. Many loyalists interpreted the now announced waiver of prosecution as a sign that more and more consideration was being given to “the other side”. The police made no move to stop the Republican march last summer, they say.
The resentment goes deeper, however. The UK’s exit from the EU has created considerable problems for Northern Irishmen, who feel part of the UK – and who now fear that post-Brexit the gap with the rest of the UK will widen. After all, Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson consented to Northern Ireland remaining in the EU’s customs territory during Brexit, which in fact makes border controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland necessary.
“Perpetual concessions” to the Irish Catholic side
After Johnson initially simply denied the need for such controls, countless problems are now emerging. The “Northern Ireland Protocol”, which sets out the controls and is part of the Brexit treaty, is at the center of this dispute. Both unionist leader Foster and the leaders of all loyalist associations in the Protestant camp are now demanding London’s unilateral departure from this protocol. The protocol is of course a prerequisite for free movement in the area of the entire “Green Island” – as provided for in the Belfast Agreement from 1998, the so-called Good Friday Treaty, which brought peace to Northern Ireland for almost a quarter of a century.
In any case, a large number of loyalists now feel “betrayed” by the Brexit arrangement that Johnson has, Northern Ireland specialist Peter Shirlow told the Guardian newspaper. “There’s a lot of real anger, a real sense of frustration.” Younger people in particular have no understanding of what they see as “eternal concessions” to the Irish Catholic side: “They keep hearing that the other side is winning.”