Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
Over the past few weeks there has been rioting in towns and cities across the Northern Ireland. The riots began on 29th March in Derry and has involved people as young as 12. The riots are being undertaken by those sympathetic to the loyalist cause: those who want the North to remain part of the United Kingdom. Violence broke out in Belfast, Derry, Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus. Cars have been set alight, and petrol bombs and masonry thrown. Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP and First Minster of Northern Ireland, described the events as “vandalism and attempted murder”.
So why are people rioting? After the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, a policy termed ‘The Protocol on Ireland’ was agreed. This outlined the policy on the North, which included free movement between the North and South of Ireland and a system of checks on goods crossing from the North to Britain, effectively placing a border on the Irish Sea. The unionist cause believe that these policies are breaking the terms of what a Northern Ireland in the UK should look like.
Why is this a problem? During the Troubles from 1969-1998, violence ensued against the causes of unionism (for a united Ireland) and loyalism, killing over 3000 people. The infamous violence of the nationalist IRA, or Irish Republican Army, spanned to mainland Britain and soon caught the attention of the press. The violence on the loyalist side of the conflict has been largely removed from the collective memory of the Troubles. Groups from the loyalist side also incited violence with groups like the Shankhill Butchers who kidnapped and murdered at least 23 people.
Violence was prominent on both sides and the civil war spanned 3 whole decades. The violence ended in the Good Friday Agreement, which allowed for freedom of movement and a common economy on the island of Ireland while simultaneously declaring the North as a part of the UK. The recent Brexit Withdrawal Agreement committed to honouring the Good Friday Agreement and so created the border in the Irish Sea.
The loyalist reaction to the border in the Irish Sea means that they have now renounced their support of the Good Friday Agreement. Loyalist groups think that the Protocol on Ireland has broken the Good Friday Agreement and has ignored the status of the loyalist cause. Renouncing the Good Friday Agreement means these riots could lead to more than injuries and could exacerbate sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. The peace which took 30 years to achieve is being shattered by an inconsiderate Brexit deal.
The British press are failing to give these riots the coverage they deserve: instead placing Ireland on the margins of media attention. This violence could be detrimental to the peace in Ireland and needs to be recognised by the press and the government to prevent a reignition of the Troubles. Not only should the British government acknowledge these riots, but the parties in Ireland also need to unite as one voice against the unrest and prevent political factions further escalating their cause.