we explain the explosive situation in the British province after Brexit

Northern Ireland facing a new outbreak of violence. Since the beginning of April, riots have plagued the British province, leaving dozens of injured. If the death of Prince Philip on Friday April 9 seems to have temporarily calmed the situation, the protesters plan to take to the streets again in the coming days. In their sights: the very concrete consequences of Brexit in this British province, landlocked in Ireland, and the feeling of having been betrayed by London. Franceinfo returns to this violence.

Several days of violent riots

Northern Ireland faces unprecedented violence “for several years”, according to the police. The serious riots were started on March 29 in Londonderry (or Derry) by unionists, a Protestant majority, in favor of full union with the United Kingdom. Initially, they opposed these unionist rioters to the police. But, in recent days, they have also opposed, in some towns, Unionists to Republicans with a Catholic majority, supporters of reunification with the Republic of Ireland. The violence in particular reached a Unionist district of Belfast and its surroundings during the Easter weekend.

On the night of Thursday to Friday, in a district west of Belfast, riot police, caught between the two camps, were targeted by Molotov cocktails and cobblestones as they tried to prevent hundreds of Republican protesters heading towards the Unionists. They were repelled by a water cannon, used for the first time in several years.

The violence, involving many adolescents, has caused extensive material damage and so far injured more than 70 police officers. They also resurface the specter of the “Troubles” and their 3,500 deaths, which for three bloody decades opposed Republicans and Unionists.

The consequences of Brexit pointed out

Behind these riots lie the consequences of Brexit, which weakened the delicate balance between communities in the province, with the introduction of customs controls between the United Kingdom and the European Union. LEmpty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland acted like a spark.

Because in order to avoid the return of a physical border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the European Union, these controls are held from now on in Northern Irish ports, as if the border between the European Union and the United Kingdom were located in the Irish Sea. These new provisions disrupt trade and are denounced by unionists as a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and a betrayal on the part of London. Tags “No to the Irish maritime border” have been inscribed on the walls of many cities, reports the BBC (in English).

“Everyone has the feeling that Northern Ireland is still being sidelined.”

a resident of Northern Ireland

to franceinfo

Many point to the responsibility of Boris Johnson, who has defended a radical break with the European Union, leaving little room for compromise after arriving in Downing Street in July 2019. During an emergency debate on Thursday at the Northern Ireland Assembly Minister of Justice Northern Ireland centrist Naomi Long denounced the broken promises of the British government.

On the Unionist side, the differential treatment of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom nourishes deep resentment, which is added to existing community tensions. “Peace has always been fragile in Northern Ireland. There has been a lot of progress in recent years, but you feel that the tensions are still there. It boils and you know that it can overflow at any time.” , analysis Fabrice Mourlon, lecturer at Paris-XIII and specialist in Northern Ireland on France 24.

A (temporary) appeasement after the death of Prince Philip

The violence in Northern Ireland partly calmed down on Friday April 9, after the announcement of the death of Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Protests and marches that had been planned in unionist neighborhoods in the capital, Belfast, were called off after the death was announced. “The protests were postponed out of respect for the Queen and the Royal Family”, could one read on posters plastered in the Unionist districts of the city.

In the evening, the streets of Belfast were much less crowded than on previous days, when clashes pitted riot police against a crowd trying to approach Unionist quarters. However, skirmishes took place in a Unionist enclave, but they were less violent than the day before.

This truce could be short-lived. The text of the posters stated that “the opposition” under Brexit “and to all injustices” will resume “after a period of mourning”. A man living in a unionist neighborhood also showed AFP a circulating message calling for “an intensification of the demonstrations after the weekend”.

UK and Irish governments call for calm

Faced with this escalation of violence, the British government, which dispatched the Minister for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, to the site, reiterated its call for calm, which has so far remained a dead letter. “Violence has no role to play in solving problems”, Transport Minister Grant Shapps insisted on Sky News on Friday, considering the situation “very disturbing”.

The day before, the British and Irish Prime Ministers had already called for “dialogue”, joining their voices to those of the leaders of Northern Ireland, unionists as well as republicans, to condemn this violence “unacceptable”.

Finally, Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin on Saturday warned against a “spiral” threatening the peace in Northern Ireland. This day also marks the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which ended the unrest, which for three decades opposed Republicans and Unionists.

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