Friday, January 21

Northern Ireland Deputy Leader Urges Calm Ahead of Loyalist Parades | Michelle O’Neill

Northern Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister has urged people to celebrate peacefully ahead of the loyalist parade season as tensions rise over post-Brexit trade deals.

Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, who is deputy to new Prime Minister Paul Givan of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the power-sharing administration, especially called for calm during a bonfire at a controversial site in the north from Belfast. .

Bonfires are traditionally lit in unionist areas on July 11 before parades that take place the following day to commemorate the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

One of the bonfires has been lit in the unionist area of ​​Tiger’s Bay, alongside the New Lodge nationalist community, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) refused to protect the contractors if they removed construction, citing the risk. of disorder.

Two Stormont ministers, Nichola Mallon of the SDLP and Deirdre Hargey of Sinn Féin, initiated legal proceedings to force the PSNI to act, but without success.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, O’Neill said the court’s ruling was disappointing. She said: “Everyone has the right to celebrate their culture, but this bonfire is in an interface area that draws all the tension. I met with the residents and they feel under siege, their houses have been attacked and that is not acceptable in these times.

The deputy prime minister urged calm: “I hope it will be a quiet weekend, I hope it will be a quiet weekend. All of us in the political leadership have a duty to try to ensure that this is the case.

“I would summon everyone, they would enjoy their celebrations, they would do what they do to enjoy their culture but there is no place to attack people’s houses. I just hope we have a weekend where we are not looking at the scenes we witnessed several weeks ago when we saw tensions in the interface areas, none of us want to see that. “

She added: “My message is clear, stay home, don’t get involved in the street disorder, it’s not where no one should be.”

More than 160 bonfires are expected to be lit on July 12, the main date of the parade season for the Protestant loyalist orders. Last year, the parades were canceled due to Covid, and will be limited in size this year.

An additional factor is concern among trade unionists over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which establishes post-Brexit trade deals for the region, including controls on some goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the new leader of the DUP, has demanded that the protocol be removed, calling it “the greatest threat to the economic integrity of the UK in any of our lives”.

Donaldson is the third DUP leader in three months, during a period of upheaval within the main Unionist party. Arlene Foster was ousted by an internal party revolt inspired mainly by concerns about protocol, and her successor, Edwin Poots, resigned after just 21 days in response to a new rebellion, sparked by the terms he agreed on a deal to revive. to Northern Ireland. mounting.

After visiting her last week, Labor leader Keir Starmer described the situation in Northern Ireland as fragile and said there was considerable mistrust about the protocol.

The protocol is also increasing tensions between the UK and the EU, with Boris Johnson and his Brexit minister David Frost accusing Brussels of an overly enthusiastic interpretation of its policies, while the EU says the UK is not. fulfilling your obligations under an agreement you signed. .

Starmer said there was a feeling in Northern Ireland that Johnson “under-sold” the deal “and is now dismissing responsibility for making it work.”

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