A Sinn Féin funeral was the spark, but loyalists in Northern Ireland have been dropping gasoline bombs and burning cars in part because they fear political marginalization.
The union flag no longer flies daily over Belfast city hall, a commercial border separates the region from the rest of the UK, and the police appear to be in debt to Sinn Féin. Add to this the resentment of a criminal gang over recent arrests and you have the context of three consecutive nights of riots in various towns that have left dozens of police officers injured, including five on Sunday night.
“Sinister” elements with paramilitary ties directed young people against the police, Mark Lindsay, President of the Police Federation, told the BBC on Monday. “Some don’t even know why they are attacking them, they are just doing what they are told or some see it as fun or recreational.”
The unrest subsided over the three nights, but raised troubling questions about Northern Ireland, which faces a post-Brexit flux in its centenary year.
Unionists, nationalists and nonaligned parties share power in the Stormont executive, but toxic relationships between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, locked in a loveless marriage, make the political climate radioactive.
The Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that requires controls on goods entering the region from Britain, dismays trade unionists and loyalists who fear it could become a prelude to Irish unity.
Many see it as the latest in a litany of real or perceived concessions to nationalists and the Irish government since the 1998 Good Friday deal.
Officials in Brussels, Dublin and London may have viewed the protocol in technical terms, but for loyalists it was an erosion of sovereignty and a betrayal of the British government, said Peter Shirlow, director of the University of Liverpool. Institute of Irish Studies and an authority on trade unionism. “There is a rage in loyalty, a very strong sense of frustration.”
He said a generation born after the Good Friday deal saw the political compromises inherent in the deal as defeats. “In the world in which many of these young people live, it is concession, concession, concession. They see the wind of change moving in one direction. They are constantly being told that the other side is winning. “
Sinn Féin’s decision to hold a grand funeral in Belfast last June for Bobby Storey, a former leading figure in the IRA, infuriated people across the political spectrum. Under the rules set by the executive, no more than 30 people were allowed to attend the funerals, but an estimated 2,000 people, including Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill and other Sinn Féin figures, joined the party. crowd.
The dispute flared up again last week after the Public Ministry decided not to act against any Sinn Féin politician who attended the funeral.
DUP Prime Minister Arlene Foster led union calls for Simon Byrne, the police chief of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to resign, claiming that his agents made it easy for Sinn Féin to circumvent the rules to bury one of yours.
Byrne has refused to resign, and a censure by the Stormont assembly of Sinn Féin ministers was largely symbolic.
Trouble erupted on Friday night when young people from the loyal areas of Belfast and Derry threw bottles, bricks and fireworks. On Saturday night three cars caught fire and some 30 petrol bombs were thrown at Newtownabbey, outside Belfast. On Sunday night, between 20 and 30 people in Newtownabbey and up to 50 people in Carrickfergus clashed with the police.
Security analysts said that in Carrickfergus a criminal gang, the Southeast Antrim UDA, a separatist segment of the Ulster Defense Association paramilitary group, was fighting back after recent arrests of some members.
Despite the sinister statements, there is little sign that paramilitary groups are reigniting the riots, and the riots are miniscule compared to the huge protests against the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985.
Still, trouble is expected during this summer’s loyal marching season. Police representatives say officers are paying the price for political failures. “Stop this now before lives are lost,” tweeted Naomi Long, justice minister for the Alliance party.
Sinn Féin and the DUP are in no mood for détente. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly called the violence “overcoming” the DUP’s rhetoric, prompting DUP’s Derry MP Gregory Campbell to accuse Kelly of arrogance.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism