What is behind the recent anxieties of Northern Ireland?


London (AP) —Young people threw bricks, fireworks, and petrol bombs at police during a week of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland, igniting hijacked cars and buses. Police responded with rubber bullets and water cannons.

The chaotic scene has evoked decades of memory of the Catholic-Protestant conflict known as “trouble.” The 1998 peace agreement ended massive violence, but did not resolve the deep-seated tensions in Northern Ireland.

Let’s take a look at the background of the new violence.

Why is Northern Ireland a conflicting land?

Geographically, Northern Ireland is part of Ireland. Politically, it’s part of England.

Ireland, long dominated by its large neighbors, was released about 100 years ago after centuries of colonization and uncertain unions. Twenty-six of the 32 counties have become independent Roman Catholic-dominated countries. The six northern counties, which make up the majority of Protestants, remained in England.

The Catholic minority in Northern Ireland has experienced discrimination in Protestant-run state jobs, residences and other areas. In the 1960s, the Catholic civil rights movement demanded change, but faced severe reactions from government and police. Some people, both Catholic and Protestant, have formed armed groups that escalate violence with bombing and shooting.

British troops were deployed in 1969 and were initially intended to maintain peace. The situation worsened, leading to a conflict between Irish republican militias who wanted to unite with the South, Loyalist paramilitaries trying to keep Northern Ireland in Britain, and British troops.

During the 30-year conflict, more than 3,600 people, most of them civilians, were killed in bombings and shootings. Most were in Northern Ireland, but Irish Republican troops also fired bombs in London and other British cities.

How did the dispute end?

By the 1990s, after secret talks, combatants had reached a peace agreement with the help of diplomatic efforts by Ireland, Britain and the United States. In the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, paramilitaries set up weapons and established a Catholic and Protestant power-sharing government for Northern Ireland. The issue of Northern Ireland’s final status has been postponed. As long as it was the hope of the majority, it remained Britain, but future referendums on unification were not excluded.

Peace was largely sustained, but small groups of Irish Republican debris occasionally attacked security forces, causing street violence between denominations.

Politically, there have been periods of success and failure in power-sharing arrangements. The Belfast administration collapsed in January 2017 with a failed green energy project. It remained suspended for more than two years in the rift between British unionists and Irish nationalist parties over cultural and political issues, including Irish status. The Northern Irish government resumed work in early 2020, but there remains deep distrust on both sides.

How complex does BREXIT have?

Northern Ireland is called the “problem child” of Brexit, Britain’s departure from the European Union. As the only region of the UK bordering the EU member state Ireland, it was the most difficult problem to solve after the UK voted narrowly to leave the block of 27 countries in 2016.

Ireland’s open borders, where people and goods flow freely, support the peace process and allow Northern Ireland people to relax in both Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Britain’s conservative claims against the “hard Brexit” that robbed the EU of its economic order meant creating new barriers and checking trade. The UK and the EU have agreed that Ireland cannot have a border because it could pose a risk to the peace process. Another option, figuratively, was to place it in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of England.

The arrangement surprised British union members that it could weaken Northern Ireland’s position in Britain and strengthen its call for reunification.

Why is violence happening now?

Violence occurred primarily in Belfast and Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second largest city, and the surrounding Protestant regions, but the turmoil has spread to the Catholic neighborhood.

Britain left the EU’s economic embrace on 31 December, and the new trade deal has frustrated Northern Ireland members who want to stay in Britain soon. Early trade glitches, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, led to several empty supermarket shelves and increased vigilance. Border guards temporarily withdrew from a port in Northern Ireland in February after graffiti appeared to target port workers.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had long argued that there were no new checks on trade as a result of Brexit, was angry at downplaying the magnitude of the changes brought about by Brexit. .. Some parts of the British Loyalist community in Northern Ireland feel that their identities are being threatened.

“Many supporters believe that Northern Ireland is virtually no longer part of Britain,” Ulster University professor of political science Henry Patterson told Sky News.

Unionists are also angry with police’s decision not to prosecute politicians from the IRA-linked Sinn Féin party who attended the funeral of a former Irish Republican commander in June, despite coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, illegal armed groups continue to act as criminal drug gangs, exerting influence over the working-class community, while major paramilitary organizations have denied involvement in the recent mayhem.

Many of the people involved in the violence were teenagers, even 12-year-olds. Although they grew up after trouble, they live in areas where poverty and unemployment are still high and sectarian divisions have not healed. Twenty years after the Good Friday Peace Agreement, a concrete “peace wall” still separates the Catholic and Protestant regions of Belfast’s working class.

The coronavirus pandemic has added a new layer of boredom to the mix caused by financial damage, educational turmoil, and blockades.

Despite calls for peace from political leaders in Belfast, London, Dublin and Washington, the knot in question can be difficult to resolve.

Katie Hayward, a professor of political science at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “And when (people) are mobilized by social media and say,’Sufficient, it’s time to protect Ulster,’ many (too many) of them react to it.”

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