Returning Label volunteer Leah Langley informs us on the reasons why Northern Ireland is currently experiencing its worst violence in many years, and the events which have occured since chaos broke out.
Northern Ireland has seen chaos ensue since the end of March, with the violence continuing into April. Tensions have been steadily rising since Brexit negotiations began, but the recent actions of Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service seem to have perpetuated a wave of horrific violence.
Since rioting began in the last week of March, more than 74 Police Officers have been injured in what is said the be the worst violence that the country has faced in years. Northern Ireland is no stranger to radical disputes, but since the introduction of the Good Friday Agreement nearly 2 decades ago, things have been relatively quiet.
The population of Northern Ireland is split between Unionists and Nationalists. The Unionists are made up of mostly protestant individuals who wish to keep Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom, however, the Nationalists are made up of mostly catholic individuals who wish to have political unity with the Republic of Ireland.
Brexit negotiations have seen a sense of frustration arising in the Unionist community due to the conflict it would inflict on the 1988 Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement stated that there would not be a physical border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, with the new Brexit guidelines, the once invisible interface between the two countries, it is now the UK’s only land border with the European Union. This has seen great difficulties in the trading of goods into the market as it is heavily regulated under the new rules. The UK Government attempted to deal with the conflict by introducing checks on goods that were not along the land border, but this essentially just created a “sea border” for the goods being transported between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
There had been a sense of unrest and tension in Northern Ireland since the new rules came into effect on January 1st, as many people expressed that they felt they were now an unequal part of the UK. It was not until the recent actions of the Northern Irish Public Prosecution Service that the unrest presented itself in physicality. 24 high-ranking members of Sinn Fein, the Nationalist Party, broke COVID-19 regulations by attending the funeral of Bobby Storey, one of the most prominent members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA is a paramilitary group that played an instrumental part in the earlier violence seen in Northern Ireland and so there were conflicted opinions surrounding the party already. The Public Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute any of the members who has attended the funeral, and this seemed to spearhead the violence that ensued.
Violence was steadily breaking out all over the country from the end of March, but the beginning of April is when the worst destruction was seen. Riots have been breaking out in Londonderry, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Ballymena, and Newtownabbey, with rioters as young as 12 arming themselves with bricks, fireworks, and petrol bombs. April 7th saw some of the worst violence with Police Officers being attacked, and a bus being hijacked in Belfast before being engulfed in flames. 8 officers were injured a Loyalist/Nationalist interface as several hundred people gathered on both sides throwing petrol bombs at each other. The Police were forced to respond by firing six batons in an attempt to suppress the disturbances after facing, what was said to be, “a potential imminent loss of life.” The next day saw the same rioting breaking out at the interface, and for the first time in 6 years, the Police Service of Northern Ireland had to deploy a watercannon to try and break up the rioters. There were petrol bombs, bricks, and fireworks being thrown towards the peace line, and when police tried to move between the rioters, they became the target of the attacks.
Following the death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, there was a call from Loyalist groups for all protests to be halted as a mark of respect, but rioting still broke out in Tigers Bay. Police suffered attacks over the course of many hours with more petrol bombs, stones, and missiles being used. A burning car was also crashed into a Land Rover and bins were set alight. The violence saw a further 14 officers being injured with one even being knocked unconscious. There seems to be some hope for the country as there has been a drastic reduction in violence over the last few days, but it’s safe to say that tensions still remain among the residents of Northern Ireland.
Edited by Izzie Naish – News Editor
Header designed by Christos Alamaniotis – Head of Design