Brexit and Covid have raised long-standing heartaches and street protests.
LONDON - Hijacked bus, bombarded with stones, then set on fire. Riots of masked youths, launching missileses and homemade bombs. A press photographer attacked in the streets.
For nearly a week, scenes of violence familiar from Northern Ireland 's brutal past returned in a stark warning of the fragility of 'a peace process, conceived more than two decades ago, under increasing political and sectarian pressure.
Amid the disputed fallout from Brexit , politicians have put evidence of different causes of outbursts of anger on the part of parts of the Protestant community, known as Unionist or Loyalist, which is determined to keep its link with the rest of the United Kingdom.
But analysts agree that six consecutive nights of violence, during which 55 police officers were injured and 10 arrests made, mark a worrying trend.
"I think it's very serious, it's easy to see how things can get out of hand and hard to see how things can calm down", Said Katy Hayward, professor of political sociology at Queen 's University of Belfast.
In the feverish day after Brexit, she added, Unionists "feel betrayed by the British Government and believe that the place of Northern Ireland within the union is under great pressure as a result, so feelings of insecurity definitely raise the stakes. " Image Police officers with Riot shields march along Springfield Road in Belfast on Wednesday. Credit ... Jason Cairnduff / Reuters
Jonathan Caine, Conservative Party member of the House of Lords and former adviser to six Northern Ireland secretaries, said the violence reflected dangerous tensions.
" By historical standards it is not out of control, but it could be and the reason is not just the reaction to Brexit "he said "There are deeply rooted anxieties within the Unionist community and a perception that they have been left behind, that everything is not for them but for Republicans", he added in referring to parts of the Roman Catholic population who are in favor of a united Ireland.
With riots by some as young as 13, violence shocked politicians, promptin g condemnation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive, who on Thursday called for calm to be restored. Bus drivers parked on Thursday outside City Hall to protest an incident in which one of their colleagues saw his vehicle hijacked and burnt.
the latest violence has taken place in sensitive areas of Belfast on the between areas populated by predominantly Protestant communities and those where predominantly Roman Catholics live, increasing the chances of a violent response.
Despite the Good Friday Accord of 1998 which largely ended decades of bloodshed known as the Troubles, neither violence sectarian, nor the paramilitary groups that underlie it, have never completely disappeared from Northern Ireland.
Some people think that dark groups exploit sectarian anxieties and frustrations with the Covid-19 restrictions to cause trouble for police officers who have cracked down on the groups' criminal activities.
Although the tensions have increased in recent weeks, it is an incident dating back moreiour months which has been the catalyst for the most recent violence, which has seen rioters burning tires and garbage in the streets.
In June 2020, despite Covid-19 rules banning large gatherings, police allowed funerals to take place after the death of Bobby Storey, who was believed to be the intelligence chief of the Irish Republican Army, an armed group dedicated to a united Ireland which waged a violent campaign against British forces during the so-called unrest. Image Irish nationalists seen near the" peace wall "gates on Lanark Way during Wednesday's protests. Credit ... Jason Cairnduff / Reuters figcaption>
Among the approximately 2,000 people who attended his funeral were prominent members of Sinn Fein, a party that mainly represents Roman Catholic voters. The party was once seen as the political wing of the IRA, but now plays an important role in the democratic system of power sharing in Belfast.
A decision last week not to prosecute mourners for violating Covid regulations infuriated unionists, sparking protests and inciting the prime minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, to demand the resignation of the Chief of Police, Simon Byrne, for his handling of the funeral.
M.. Caine said that in Northern Ireland, police decisions are particularly difficult given the risk of causing unrest and that security forcescan be placed in an impossible position. Nonetheless, the lack of prosecution "played into the feeling among some Unionists that this is a rule for Sinn Fein and another for the rest of us," he said.
Since the 1998 peace accord, there has been discontent among some Unionists "and a perception that it was a victory for Republicans , that they have all the advantages and the loyalists ha I got nothing, ”he added.
But tensions also rose since Great Britain has completed the final stages of Brexit on January 1. This ended a system in which businesses in Northern Ireland shared the same business rules as those in Ireland, which is still part ofthe European Union.
During the interminable Brexit negotiations a lot of energy has been devoted to avoiding the need for controls of goods at the very sensitive land of Northern Ireland with Ireland.
Under an agreement in a protocol concluded by Mr Johnson, Northern Ireland has been given special economic status which leaves it on horseback on UK and EU trading systems.
However, it also imposes new controls, especially on goods which circulate from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland - anathema to Unionists who want equal treatment with the rest of the UK.
Despite the deal he signed, Mr Johnson promised that there would be no new ' in the Irish Sea And, ignoring the looming difficulties, his government has done little to prepare public opinion in Northern Ireland for the changes.
However, on January 1, when post-Brexit trade rules came into force, companies faced new red tape and some UK companies have stopped transporting goods to Northern Ireland, causing shortages of superm arket shelves. Amid mounting tensions, controls on goods were temporarily halted following threats against customs personnel. Image Fireworks explode during clashes between Irish nationalists and loyalists in the United Kingdom on Wednesday in Belfast. Credit. .. Peter Morrison / Associated Press
"Boris Johnson told unionists that there would be no in the Irish Sea, even on January 1, they were told that we would never see the integrity of the UK single market undermined, so they feel betrayed by protocol. "said Professor Hayward.
For Northern Ireland 's biggest political force, the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Ms Foster, the situation is particularly delicate.e Brexit and opposed a softer version that was proposed by former British Prime Minister Theresa May, ultimately resulting in a version that brings exactly what she didn't want: a more separation tangible and visible between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. United Kingdom.
However, the European Union also contributed to the crisis by briefly announcing in January plans to effectively target suspend the protocol en triggering an emergency mechanism in the event of a dispute over vaccine supplies. Although the UK government also threatened to break the treaty on a separate issue - and the European Unionenne overturned his decision within hours - which brought unionists together in anger.
"Those few hours on Jan 29 has changed everything," said Professor Hayward, who added that the Brussels decision summed up Unionist suspicions about the protocol and distracted senior politicians from reluctantly accepting it into outright opposition. "> With the demise From Unionist support for the protocol, trust in the police in question and the Brexit friction between the British and Irish governments, it could be difficult to quell the violence.
"In the past, these things have been mitigated by very careful and well-supported actions of community agents in the field, supported by the political environment , rhetoric and manifestations of successful peace at the highestlevels - including the Anglo-Irish relationship "said Professor Hayward.
" You are looking around now "he said. she added, "and think: all of these things are really under pressure.