Northern Ireland’s decentralized government holds an emergency meeting on Thursday over an outbreak of unrest, as Brexit shakes a fragile political balance.
On Wednesday, the fourth night of violence in a week, rioters hijacked a bus and set it on fire and threw petrol bombs at police in the capital, Belfast. Dozens of police officers were injured.
The turmoil comes as frustration grows among pro-UK trade unionists over new post-Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
New tensions raised concerns about the political stability of Northern Ireland, which was plagued by decades of violence before a 1998 peace deal ended fighting between mostly Catholic nationalists who are pushing for a united Ireland and mostly Protestant trade unionists or loyalists who wanted Northern Ireland to stay. part of the UK.
More than 3,600 people have been killed in the conflict, which erupted in the late 1960s and involved Irish Republicans, trade unionists and the British armed forces.
Here’s what you need to know about the latest happenings:
What is behind the current tension?
The UK’s economic split from the European Union at the end of 2020 upset the fragile political balance in Northern Ireland, despite attempts to avoid such an outcome.
Preserving the peace in Northern Ireland without allowing the UK to turn away from EU markets across the UK-Ireland land border, 310 miles (500 km) away, was one of the thorniest issues in Brexit divorce negotiations.
The deal ultimately reached by London and Brussels was designed to avoid controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member, as an open border on the island helped support the peace process built on the Good Friday Accord of 1998.
But controversial, the Brexit divorce deal has led to customs and border controls being imposed on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol, which has effectively created a border in the Irish Sea and angered trade unionists.
The controls created problems when importing a range of goods into the region. Businesses have warned they are struggling to cope with the new bureaucracy.
In early March, loyalist Northern Irish paramilitary groups withdrew their support for the 1998 peace deal over concerns about the implications of the Brexit deal for the region, and pledged to oppose it through “peaceful and democratic” means.
The coalition of groups have informed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that they will not support the Belfast Agreement again until the Northern Ireland Protocol is amended to ensure unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Why are there riots?
The recent violence, which has largely taken place in unionist areas, has erupted as tensions over Northern Ireland’s trade rules post-Brexit increase and the resulting economic disruption plagues the region.
It also comes against the backdrop of a deteriorating relationship between the main power-sharing local government parties.
Prime Minister Arlene Foster’s British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) attributes the unrest to anger over the Irish maritime border and the police decision not to prosecute Irish nationalists Sinn Fein for organizing a funeral to break the lockdown of the former Irish Republican Army commander. Bobby Storey.
The DUP and other Unionist parties have demanded the resignation of the Northern Ireland Police Chief over the controversy.
But Sinn Fein and other critics accused the DUP of fueling tensions with their opposition to the new trade deals.
What happened in the troubles?
Wednesday’s violence took place near a so-called “peace wall” separating the region from a nearby Irish nationalist stronghold, where groups of young people also gathered.
Walls and fences were built between the two communities to prevent clashes during the three decades of violence in Northern Ireland, commonly known as the unrest.
Northern Ireland Police Service Deputy Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said several hundred people had gathered on either side of a door in the wall, where “crowds … were committing serious criminal offenses , both by attacking the police and by attacking each other ”.
He added that it was likely that paramilitary organizations were involved in the violence.
The latest disruption followed earlier riots over Easter weekend in and around the union areas of Belfast and Londonderry, also known as Derry, which saw cars set on fire and projectiles and guns Gasoline bombs thrown at police officers.
Roberts said a total of 55 police officers were injured over the several nights of mess.
How did the officials react?
Northern Irish politicians from all walks of life have condemned the violence, which Foster called “unwarranted and unjustifiable”.
“Those responsible must be subject to the full rigor of the law,” she tweeted.
I spoke with the police chief while he briefed the political parties. Thoughts are especially with the officers injured by the unwarranted and unjustifiable violence of recent days. Those responsible must be subject to the rule of the law and all must be equal before the law.
– Arlène Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) April 8, 2021
Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein also condemned the disorder and attacks on police.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for calm, saying that “the way to resolve differences is through dialogue and not through violence or crime”.
“I am deeply concerned about the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland,” he tweeted, citing the bus hijacking and an attack on a photojournalist for the Belfast Telegraph newspaper.
I am deeply concerned about the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, in particular the attacks on the PSNI which protects the public and businesses, the attacks on a bus driver and the assault on a journalist. The way to resolve disputes is through dialogue, not through violence or crime.
– Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 7, 2021
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told national broadcaster RTE: “This has to stop before anyone is killed or seriously injured.
“These are scenes that we haven’t seen in Northern Ireland for a very long time, these are scenes that a lot of people thought relegated to history and I think it takes a collective effort to try to dispel the tensions. . “