“The default position of unionism and loyalty is to suspect disloyalty and treason,” says Mikel Nesbitt, former leader and MP for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in the Belfast Assembly. And there is clear evidence that Boris Johnson has betrayed the Unionist population of Northern Ireland. ‘ In that facet, he joins two other Conservative Prime Ministers, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.
To the first, radical unionists and loyalists (associated with armed groups) paralyzed the province with strikes when it promoted a shared autonomy with the nationalists. Ian Paisley, founder of the DUP, the now most popular party in Northern Ireland, called Thatcher ‘perverse, treacherous and lying woman », while a puppet with his effigy was burned at a stake. The Iron Lady had signed a cooperation agreement between London and Dublin.
The difference between those two attempts to create institutions shared by nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland, in 1972, or across the island, in 1985, and this betrayal by Johnson is that the current one would have been perpetrated masked in a complicated commercial jargon (overlapping customs unions, phytosanitary controls, varieties of VAT,…), but it would have, according to Nesbitt, a constitutional effect.
The imposition of borders between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – Johnson said he would never accept such a thing – separates the Unionists from their british compatriots and staying in the community customs union pushes you toward an island-wide economy. As in previous dates – with the exception perhaps of the Good Friday Agreement, in 1998 – the constitutional modification has been followed by riots.
The burning of cars, the attacks on the Police or the search for confrontation with nationalists ceased in the loyalist districts after the announcement of the death of Philip of Edinburgh. But, once the official mourning, the loyal and troublesome subjects of the Crown have already called illegal marches.
Ministers of the Democratic Unionist Party, created by Paisley, have not attended in the last two weeks meetings of the committees that channel cooperation between the governments of the north and south of Ireland. These entities were created in the Good Friday Agreement and, although the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, says that it is not a boycott of that part of the Agreement, other voices of her party express themselves with more ambiguity.
Northern Ireland will commemorate in the coming weeks the centenary of its legal creation, of the demarcation of the border between what the law described as “Northern Ireland” and “Southern Ireland” and of the opening of its first autonomous Parliament. But the reasons why Gerry Carroll thinks that, “sadly” they are going to have “a hot summer”, are other.
Carroll, a deputy for the People Before Benefit (PBP) party, attended twelve days ago as an interested neighbor to the riots that have caused the most concern. Youth from the loyalist Shankill Road went to the chain link fence that separates them from the Nationalist neighborhood of Falls. There was stone throwing and incendiary devices. “Those who lead precarious lives often look to the other side of the fence to blame,” adds Carroll.
“Sectarianism comes from above,” says the Socialist deputy. “The first thing you have to do when you get to Parliament in Stormont is say if you are a unionist or a nationalist, the rest of us are ‘other’.” The political system created in 1998 would have “cemented the idea of the two communities and the two traditions.” «The parties», Carroll emphasizes, «are voted primarily so that the others do not win.
Nebitt and Carroll agree that Stormont’s policies have not been successful in improving lives in the poorer neighborhoodslike Falls or Shankill in West Belfast. Their names and those of districts in Antrim or Derry are now appearing in the media because they are places of unrest. They combine poverty and sometimes control by armed groups with mafia drifts.
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