A wave of protests lasted for six consecutive days in Northern Ireland, with cars set on fire and the use of Molotov cocktails by protesters. The escalation of tension peaked in the early hours of Thursday (8), the most violent to date, when hundreds of young people from a pro-British region of the capital Belfast set a bus on fire and threw stones on police officers. .
This Thursday evening, new scenes of violence were also recorded, this time in a pro-Ireland region, with homemade bombs dropped on the security forces. Since the protests began, at least 55 police officers have been injured and young people, aged 13 to 14, have been arrested for causing a riot. A photographer for the Belfast Telegraph newspaper was also attacked.
The scenes recall three decades of conflict in the country between pro-Irish Catholic and pro-British Protestant groups, which have left some 3,600 dead. The clashes that have occurred since last week are the most significant since the peace agreement between the two parties, which ended in 1998.
The discontent this time comes from the group that supports the British and was in favor of Brexit, in growing frustration since the start of the year when new trade barriers were placed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. United, because of the agreement that took the country out of the European Union.
Checks and tariffs have been imposed on some goods because Northern Ireland has a border with Ireland, a member of the European bloc, although British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised not to establish strict controls between them. country and unrestricted trade in the region.
Brexit critics say a border in the Irish Sea is in place, leaving Protestants to feel they have been betrayed by London and part of their identity has been erased. The aspect of division between regions was one of the main obstacles to the UK’s exit from the EU.
According to the police, some of the violence was influenced by criminals who orchestrated the attacks and sometimes adults applauded the young people for committing acts of violence. The actions took place in the area of the so-called “peace wall”, a structure of fences and bricks that separates Protestants and Catholics from Belfast. While the current conflicts are not between the two groups, there have been fireworks between them. Bricks and Molotov cocktails were also thrown.
Some sites in the region remain separated 23 years after the peace pact, with Catholics still advocating the unification of Irish women, while Protestants want to stay in the UK.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a number of factors are responsible for popular discontent and post-Brexit rules are certainly one of them.
The trigger for the wave of violence, however, appears to have been the Irish police’s decision not to prosecute nationalist Catholics from Sinn Fein, a party with a historic connection to the separatist group IRA, over a large burial. organized in 2020 in the middle. pandemic restrictions. The Protestant and pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (PUD) even called for the resignation of the chief of police.
On a social network on Wednesday, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the leader of the PUD, Arlene Foster, condemned the protests and pinned the rival party. “They [as manifestações] they are a disgrace to Northern Ireland and only serve to draw the attention of real offenders to Sinn Fein.
The rival acronym, on the other hand, said that the PUD is stoking tensions by demanding the resignation of the chief of police.
Despite the exchange of accusations, the parties, which share power in Northern Ireland, put aside their differences on Thursday to call for calm. In a joint statement, they expressed concern about the Belfast scenes. “Although our political positions are quite different, we are united in our support for law and order and we collectively declare our support for the police,” said the coalition of rivals.
At a regional assembly held this Thursday to discuss the clashes, Foster said when politics seem to fail with the people, some offer destruction and despair. “We cannot allow a new generation to fall victim to or be pursued by some who prefer shadows to light.”
Michelle O’Neill, Deputy Prime Minister and head of Sinn Fein, said the issues between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland had led to a dangerous escalation and it was a miracle that no one died.
Boris, the British Prime Minister said on Twitter that he was deeply concerned about the situation, in particular the attacks on the police, the driver who hijacked and burned the bus and the Belfast Telegraph reporter, and called for the disputes are resolved through dialogue and not with violence.
The European Commission, which is discussing with the UK government ways to reduce some trade barriers, has condemned the violence. The protests also sparked a backlash from the US government, which said through its State Department that the 1998 peace deal could not fall victim to Brexit.
Portfolio spokesperson Ned Price said Joe Biden’s leadership encourages the UK and the European Union to prioritize economic and political stability in the region. The negotiations that led to the 1998 accord were chaired by then-US Special Envoy George Mitchell.