Belfast experienced an episode of violence on Wednesday afternoon and night that recalled, on a small scale, its worst experiences. Youths encouraged by adult adults on Shankill Road burned a bus, released the brake to make it run uncontrollably, attacked Police vans with bottles or stones. A photographer was hit.
Then they headed down Lanark Way toward the metal gates that separate the Unionist from the Nationalist zone. The police closed them. Young people and adults gathered on the other side of the barrier, on Springfield Road. The two sides exchanged insults and stones. The Police used plastic bullets. The incidents have left Prime Minister Boris Johnson “deeply concerned.”
The riots in West Belfast come after similar attacks on Police in Londonderry, central Belfast, Carrickfergus or Newtownabbey. In Portadown, in the south of the region, a group of pro-bitan loyalists paraded their masked members on Monday. More illegal marches are expected in the coming days. But what happened on Wednesday night is different.
The organizers of the Shankill Road riots sought to clash with their neighbors, in what Northern Ireland’s architectural-political jargon is known as ‘interface’. They are the points of contact between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, separated by metal barriers, gates or walls, which are called “lines of peace.”
The protests are explained by the intervention of gangsters dedicated to the drug trade and extortion, entrenched under the unionist flag. They are justified by the border controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland forced by the ‘Brexit’ or by the resignation of the State Prosecutor’s Office to prosecute leaders of Sinn Féin, who participated in the grand funeral of a former head of the IRA in the midst of a pandemic .
The protests follow a historical pattern. In the 1970s, unionists paralyzed the province with strikes and protests, when the British Government promoted an agreement for them to share the governorate of the province with nationalists. In the 1990s, they mobilized to protest the ban on Orange (Protestant) parades in a Catholic area of Portadown.
If what happened on Wednesday is repeated, the protest could turn into a sectarian contest, with the danger of an escalation of violence. The radical difference with the context in which the terrorist conflict broke out in the 1960s is that the Autonomous Assembly and the Executive, a coalition of five parties, have unanimously condemned the violence.
The condemnation of the riots does not cover the deep gaps. To the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led by the main minister, Arlene Foster, the collaboration of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with Sinn Féin to organize the funeral would have confirmed that it acts in a political way , prolonging the appeasement of the IRA in the peace process.
But Foster and other DUP leaders met in February with the Loyalist Communities Committee, which includes illegal groups: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and its annex, Red Hand Command (RHC), and Association for the Defense of Ulster (UDA). They debated the effects of ‘Brexit’. The committee announced peaceful protests in March until the abolition of the Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement that Johnson signed with the European Union.
Regional Police Chief Simon Byrne recently confirmed that the IRA Military Council – also illegal – continues to “monitor” the overall strategy of Sinn Féin, which maintains regional arms and structures, although it supports the peace process initiated with the Accord. Good Friday 1998. Unionists consider it intolerable that a government party continues to be associated with the IRA and justifies its history.
Mike Nesbitt, from the Ulster Unionist Party, recalled in the debate in the regional assembly the other serious gap, that the places where these protests take place have been among the poorest in the country for decades.
#Unionist #protest #worries #Boris #Johnson