There was yet more violence in Northern Ireland last night, with police attacked again. Water cannons were used in the province for the first time in six years to try and disperse the rioters, who appeared to come from both republican and unionist areas.
Northern Ireland’s population is divided between mostly – Protestant Unionists, who want to maintain Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom, and mostly – Catholic Nationalists, who want political unity with the Republic of Ireland.
Now, more than two decades after the Good Friday Agreement peace deal brought the years of sectarian “Troubles” in the Northern Ireland to an end, new tensions arising from Brexit, organised crime and political patronage are stoking old rivalries and anxieties.
While the causes for the violence are multifaceted, observers say it is underpinned by a sense of frustration in the Unionist community. “There has been this brewing fear on the Unionist side that they are not as British as people in Birmingham,” says Feargal Cochrane, author of Northern Ireland: The Fragile Peace. “A fear that there are different rules applying to them.”
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, will continue talks with local political, community and faith leaders to try and calm things down. Meanwhile, a row is developing over exactly what is to blame.
The spark was supposedly the decision not to charge prominent republicans for attending a huge public funeral for a former IRA member during lockdown last year. Tensions over the new Irish Sea border after Brexit have been suggested as another factor. And, as Lord Caine, a former top adviser to the Government on Northern Ireland, argued in an interview, there is the recent crackdown on criminal elements on both sides.
Of course, singling out or dismissing any one of those causes is rather silly and betrays a failure to understand how mainstream politics, sectarianism and criminality interact in Northern Ireland. What is certain is that this is a rather rude awakening for those on all sides of British politics who see Northern Ireland as a mere bargaining tool in UK-EU relations.
Many still believe, one of great follies of 21st century was the Brexit and entire Great Britain has yet to rise and shine after the narrow referendum, which was supposed to be the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.