On March 29, police were the target of a gasoline bomb attack in a trade union-dominated neighborhood of Tullymore, Derry / Londonderry, after trying to disperse a crowd of around 40 people. For five nights, similar scenes unfolded in the city.
On Friday April 2, the disorder spread south to Belfast, where a small protest turned into an attack on police in a loyalist pocket in the Sandy Row area, where 15 policemen were left with burns, head and leg injuries.
Why is this happening?
The first days of the mess came the same week as authorities said they would not prosecute Nationalist Party leaders Sinn Fein for allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions last summer when they attended the funeral of Bobby Storey, a former figure in the IRA, a paramilitary group who waged a decades-long campaign for an independent and reunified Ireland.
Storey’s funeral drew crowds of around 2,000 people.
Loyalist communities have accused authorities of partisan hypocrisy around the move, saying they made the decision to cancel their traditional July 12 parades last summer due to Covid-19. and had missed events and attended funerals of loved ones because they had followed these restrictions.
But many analysts also point to the recent and successful police crackdown on drug gangs and criminal activity supported and directed by loyalist paramilitary forces.
Who is rioting?
Most of the rioters are young people, with some participants as young as 12, according to the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI).
The first days of the violence, which escalated over the Easter weekend, took place in predominantly loyalist areas of the cities of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry and the towns of Newtownabbey, Ballymena and Carrickfergus.
But that dynamic changed on Wednesday in west Belfast, where rioters from loyalist and nationalist communities clashed along the so-called peace line – a closed wall separating predominantly Unionist and nationalist neighborhoods from each other .
At one point, police struggled to close a door designed to separate areas during the violence, where gasoline bombs, bottles, masonry and fireworks were thrown.
Sometimes more than 600 people were present, police said.
Earlier Wednesday, a bus was also hijacked and set on fire on Lanark Way, near the junction with Shankill Road, where a press photographer was also attacked.
In some videos of the disorder shared on social media, adults can be seen cheering and urging the children to undertake the acts of violence, raising deep concerns that the violence could be orchestrated by paramilitary groups.
On Thursday, the PSNI said it was still trying to confirm “whether or not paramilitary groups were involved” in the riots. Police did not say there was any paramilitary involvement, but PSNI Temporary Deputy Chief of Police Jonathan Roberts said it was “clear that there was some degree of organization” in violence.
On Thursday evening, clashes continued on Springfield Road in Belfast, with protesters throwing stones at police vehicles on the nationalist side of the peace line. Officers in riot gear, with dogs and a water cannon, moved to disperse those involved.
The South Belfast UPRG on Thursday became the first loyalist group to call for an end to the disorder. The Council of Loyalist Communities (LCC), a group which includes representatives of union paramilitaries and which is also associated with the UPRG, said in a statement on Friday that “none of their associated groups were directly or indirectly involved in violence including days. He added that “the right to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental human right” but that all actions taken by members of the loyalist community “should be entirely peaceful”.
The PSNI ruled out the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries in orchestrating the violence on Friday, appearing to reverse their previous assessment.
Speaking at a press conference, Roberts said their “overall assessment” was that the violence that took place “is not orchestrated by a group, on behalf of that group”.
“There are certainly people who have engaged in violence that has nothing to do with an illegal organization,” he said.
“We believe that there may be people who might have links with banned organizations, who have been present at the scenes of violence, but we do not believe that this was sanctioned and organized by organizations prescribed for demonstrations. peaceful, ”he added.
What does Brexit have to do with this?
The riots are taking place amid growing anger over a specific part of the Brexit deal.
Tensions have intensified in Northern Ireland since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016. But anger is mounting over a specific part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement called the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been a key point of contention.
Throughout the Brexit negotiations, all parties largely agreed that any deal would honor the Northern Ireland peace deal, known as the Good Friday Agreement (MFA), British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying in 2019 that “under no circumstances will we have any checks at or near the border in Northern Ireland. We will respect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. ”
The GFA marked the end of the unrest – a term used to describe the period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted from the late 1960s until it was signed in 1998.
The peace agreement also began the process of dismantling border controls between the North and the Republic of Ireland, and in 2006 the last watchtower was dismantled.
But after the UK left the EU (and its single market), a new plan – the Northern Ireland Protocol (NI) – was implemented.
The NI Protocol aims to eliminate the need for border controls between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (a member of the EU).
Instead, it creates a de facto border along the Irish Sea, as goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain are subject to EU controls. The move angered pro-British unionists, including Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster and her party, the Democratic Unionist Party, who say the deal puts the union’s future in jeopardy.
Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long said on Wednesday the UK government’s dishonesty and lack of clarity around these issues has contributed to a sense of anger in parts of our community, saying the government had downplayed the impact Brexit would have on the North. Ireland.
Long told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today that the government knew the consequences of Brexit would be “felt most acutely in Northern Ireland, where identity issues are linked to border issues” .
Last month, the Council of Loyalist Communities said it was withdrawing its support for the Good Friday deal, also known as the Belfast accord.
What are political leaders saying?
After several consecutive days of disorder, British Prime Minister Johnson said on Wednesday he was “deeply concerned about the scenes of violence” in Northern Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who spoke to Johnson later today, said “the way forward is through dialogue and the work of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” which ended decades of murderous sectarian violence across Ireland.
On Thursday, the White House joined leaders of Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland in expressing concern over the violence, with State Department spokesman Ned Price warning that the Good Friday deal must not “become a victim of Brexit ”.
Long, the Minister of Justice of Northern Ireland, called on people to “stop, before lives are lost”.
During an emergency Northern Ireland government meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Arlene Foster said violence had tarnished the country’s reputation on its centenary.
“We all need to be aware that when politics fail or are seen as failing in Northern Ireland, those who fill the void offer destruction and despair. We cannot allow a new generation of our young people to fall victim to this path or to be the prey. by someone who prefers shadows to light, ”Foster told the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Is there any sign of decreasing violence?
The two communities are calling for calm. However, it is not clear whether this appeal will be heard.
Loyalist groups on Friday called off parades by unauthorized groups that had been planned over the weekend, in a show of respect for Prince Philip, who died on Friday.
Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Journalist Peter Taggart, CNN’s Emmet Lyons, Amy Cassidy, and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.