Clashes recorded in North Ireland In recent days, from burned cars to Molotov cocktails against the police, point to a growing conflict in this British province, where the consequences of the Brexi they created a feeling of betrayal among the unionists.
Last week, the violence first erupted in the city of Londonderry, before spreading to a Loyalist area of Belfast and the surrounding area over Easter Weekend.
Small groups of masked youth set cars on fire and fired Molotov cocktails and projectiles at the police, wounding 41 officers.
“There is no doubt that Brexit” and with it the introduction of customs controls on goods arriving from the island of Great Britain “has significantly damaged the balance of forces,” says Duncan Morrow, professor of political science at Ulster University. .
It is something that “has been brewing for months,” he told Agence France-Presse.
These incidents rekindled the specter of three decades of bloody conflict between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists, which left some 3,500 dead.
The peace agreement signed in 1998 blurred the border between the British province and the neighboring Republic of Ireland – a member country of the EU – but Brexit has come to undermine that delicate balance, requiring the introduction of customs controls between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
After tough negotiations, London and Brussels managed to agree on a solution, known as “Northern Ireland protocol”, that avoids the return to a physical border on the island of Ireland by transferring these controls to the Northern Irish ports.
“Betrayed” by London
In this context, many Northern Irish unionists, attached to their membership in the UK, feel betrayed.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “promised unrestricted access, which is not the case,” Northern Ireland Regional Government Justice Minister Naomi Long told the BBC on Wednesday.
“They denied that there was any border, at the same time these borders were being erected”, lashed out.
According to Allison Morris, a police and judicial expert at the Belfast Telegraph, the rioters are not interested in the complex business issues stemming from Brexit, but “they are angry.”
“They understand that they have been betrayed precisely by the British government to which their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents showed a slavish loyalty,” he wrote.
Some also believe that Brexit negotiators gave in to the nationalists, who tacitly threatened a bloody response at the prospect of any resumption of border controls with the Republic of Ireland.
“This has set an explosive precedent as many young unionists look at protocol and conclude that violence is rewarded,” union activist Jamie Bryson told the News Letter.
Debate on Irish reunification
In early February, customs controls were suspended in the ports of Belfast and Larne due to the appearance of threats against the agents who carried them out.
But Brexit is just one aspect of a broader crisis among Northern Ireland unionists.
In 2017, they lost their historic majority in the regional parliament. Then, in 2019, legislatures in the UK saw more Republicans than Northern Irish Unionists elected to the Westminster Parliament for the first time.
This adds to a demographic shift from the younger generation towards nationalism, making unionists feel like a beleaguered minority.
Brexit also reignited a more intense debate on Irish reunification. The administration of the new US President Joe Biden even warned the UK not to back down from the 1998 peace process.
The altercations also came after authorities decided not to prosecute officials from the Republican Sinn Fein party, a former political arm of the IRA, who attended the funeral of a former paramilitary leader.
This, according to the Minister of Justice, explains “in part” the anger against the police among unionists.
However, in Morrow’s view “it is still very difficult to see where this is going to lead, aside from mounting frustration and anger.”