Rioters throw burning bottles at the police on the Springfield Road as protests continue in Belfast, Northern Ireland April 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Riots continued Thursday in Northern Ireland as sectarian tensions spurred by Brexit and policing tactics sparked anger in British loyalists.

The unrest marked by petrol bombs and fireworks throughout the past week prompted comparisons to “The Troubles,” a 3-decade-long conflict between Irish nationalists dedicated to uniting Ireland and loyalists, also known as unionists, committed to staying in the U.K. Northern Ireland has seen sporadic violence since a peace agreement in 1998, but this week’s level of violence was at a new scale not seen in years.

Multiple factors have sparked anger in Northern Ireland in recent weeks. Investigators recommended prosecuting 24 Sinn Féin elected officials who attended a funeral that broke pandemic restrictions; however, prosecutors announced their decision to not pursue the indictments, angering loyalists who believed Sinn Féin undermined government rules and got away with it. Brexit has also added to tensions in Northern Ireland after the Northern Ireland Protocol – meant to address issues stemming from its land border with Ireland – essentially created an economic border between Northern Ireland and the U.K.

The sectarian violence started on March 29 in a loyalist area in Londonderry and spread to other towns and cities, including Belfast. Eight loyalists, including a 13- and 14-year-old, were arrested in Belfast over the weekend after 15 police officers sustained injuries. Loyalist youths threw bricks and petrol bombs at police and hijacked several cars and set them ablaze. Though there is no indication of a specific group organizing the unrest, much of the violence is concentrated in areas where gangs linked to loyalist paramilitaries hold influence.

Since the skirmishes broke out last week, protests have grown from a handful of young men and teens to groups of hundreds of nationalists and unionists facing off in the streets. Older men, many suspected of being involved with paramilitary groups, cheered on the younger men who were rioting. Bus services were cancelled following a walkout by Belfast bus drivers after loyalists hijacked and set a bus on fire Wednesday. Public transportation company Translink confirmed the driver was not hurt and all passengers were off the bus before the attack occurred. Belfast police used water cannons for the first time in six years after dozens of protestors refused to disperse and continued to attack police with stones, bottles and fireworks. Overall, 55 officers have been injured in the riots.

Despite pleas of peace from London, Dublin and the U.S., the nightly violence continues to spread from pro-British areas to Irish nationalist neighborhoods with no indication of how soon the riots might end.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

This section includes an aggregation of articles showing different viewpoints on the topic.

Northern Ireland riots ‘on a scale not seen in recent years’ says Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts – News Letter – 4/8/2021
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said police are investigating whether there was any paramilitary involvement, given the level of pre-planning and orchestration. Police came under sustained attack after more than 600 people gathered at an interface between loyalist and republican areas. Petrol bombs, bottles, masonry and fireworks were thrown during the scenes of violent disorder in west Belfast.

Northern Ireland riots: Attack on Belfast Telegraph photographer Kevin Scott condemned – Belfast Telegraph – 4/8/2021
First Minister Arlene Foster has led condemnation after a Belfast Telegraph photographer was attacked yesterday. Kevin Scott (26) was set upon by two masked men while covering loyalist disorder in west Belfast. […] While he did not sustain serious injuries during the attack, he was pushed to the ground and his camera was destroyed.

Johnson and Martin condemn violence as hijacked bus petrol-bombed in North – Independent – 4/8/2021
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “deeply concerned” by loyalist violence after a bus was hijacked and set on fire amid scenes of widespread disorder in west Belfast last night. Crowds gathered at Lanark Way and West Circular Road at its junction with the Springfield Road. Amid rioting the bus was attacked at the junction of Lanark Way and the Shankill Road, and police were pelted with stones.

Does Boris Johnson even care about what’s happening in Northern Ireland? – The Independent – 4/9/2021
The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, put out a statement on Twitter, saying he was “deeply concerned” and piously prescribing “dialogue, not violence or criminality” as “the way to resolve differences”. Quite so. A week before, though, when the violence first erupted, you would have been hard put to find anything much being said in the worlds of politics or the media beyond Northern Ireland itself.

The consequences of Boris Johnson’s careless Brexit are playing out in Belfast – The Guardian – 4/9/2021
The most powerful arguments against Brexit were never about trade and tariffs. They were about peace and war, about life and death. One was a general argument centred on the true, founding purpose of the European Union: to ensure that a continent mired in blood for centuries would not descend into conflict again. The other was more specific, peculiar to these islands: that shared membership of the EU had proved to be the key that unlocked peace in Northern Ireland after three decades of murderous pain.

Northern Ireland’s riots are the death spasms of a broken Britain – OpenDemocracy – 4/9/2021
Don’t ask who struck the match. Ask who built the pyre. Ask who let poverty, illiteracy and alienation so corrode Loyalist communities across Northern Ireland that their boys tear at the seams of their own community so they can wave the shreds as flags. Try to imagine being a teenager in a community whose entire identity is built on loyalty to British institutions that barely know you exist, which do nothing to ensure you have anything to look forward to.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

This section includes an aggregation of tweets showing different viewpoints on the topic.

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