Leaders call for calm after a week of unrest in Northern Ireland

Lula Sharp
April 8, 2021

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster, of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, of the nationalist Sinn Fein party, have condemned the unrest and attacks on police.

Mr Johnson appealed for calm, saying "the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality".

However, its implementation has to date proved contentious and problematic, with the new regulatory and customs processes now required to bring goods into Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, triggering lengthy delays at the province's ports, while also sparking growing unrest among unionists and loyalists at the presence of an Irish Sea trading border.

Skirmishes erupted at the "peace wall" dividing Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods on Wednesday night in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Hundreds of youths in the British province's capital Belfast set a hijacked bus on fire and attacked police with stones yesterday in scenes reviving memories of decades of sectarian strife that claimed some 3,600 lives prior to a 1998 peace deal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the violence and said the scenes "deeply concerned" him.

Meanwhile, MLAs had already been due to return to Assembly to discuss a motion condemning it the violence after more than 40 PSNI officers were injured in disorder over recent nights. The arrangement was created to avoid checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland because an open Irish border has helped underpin the peace process built. But unionists say the new checks amount to a new border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

He pointed to the role of paramilitary groups who he warned were stoking divisions and exploiting young people within loyalist communities, adding: "It would be wrong to attribute what has happened simply to Brexit and the protocol".

"We have seen scenes last night of a new generation of young people who have been exposed to scenes that I'm sure we all thought were in generations gone by, and I would encourage anybody in a position of leadership - political representatives, community representatives, parents - take an interest in what young people are doing and to have a united message to prevent further scenes like we witnessed last night".

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"This is nothing short of child abuse", Ms Long said.

Both Britain and the European Union have expressed concerns about how the Brexit agreement is working, and the Democratic Unionist Party wants it to be scrapped.

"Those of us who are involved in politics need to make politics work, we need to be able to show that politics can deliver".

Katy Hayward, a professor at Queen's University Belfast and senior fellow of the U.K.in a Changing Europe think tank, said unionists felt that "the union is very much under threat, that Northern Ireland's place is under threat in the union and they feel betrayed by London".

The DUP has pointed to a police decision last week not to prosecute Sinn Fein for a large funeral past year that broke Covid-19 regulations.

But Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and the Alliance Party have accused unionist politicians of ramping up rhetoric by calling for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne to stand down over the police handling of Mr Storey's funeral.

"You have a very fizzy political atmosphere in which those who are trying to urge for calm and restraint are sort of undermined", Hayward said.

"It's really easy to see how it could get worse", she added.

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