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A week of violence in Northern Ireland's major cities that has seen 55 police officers continued last night, with petrol bombs and masonry hurled at police, a bus hijacked and incinerated, and the gates of one of the 'peace walls' in Belfast (walls that divide loyalist Protestant and republican Catholic communities) set alight. This has resulted in an emergency session of the power-sharing executive to be called in an effort to calm tensions, with the violence drawing condemnation from all sides of the political divide in NI, in London, and in Dublin.

  • The violence over the past week has largely taken place in the loyalist areas of Belfast and Londonderry. Last night's violence took place among both communities in the areas between the loyalist Shankhill Road (see map below) and the republican Springfield Road in the Falls Road area.
Map of Sectarian Divides In Belfast, Northern Ireland

Source: Gizem Caner

  • The causes of the violence are not necessarily clear cut.
    • There is significant anger in the loyalist/unionist community that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) decided not to prosecute any officials from the republican Sinn Fein party for attending a funeral for IRA member Bobby Storey in June 2020 alongside 2,000 mourners in clear breach of COVID-19 rules. Some unionists have called for the resignation of PSNI chief over the incident.
    • There is also well-known loyalist anger at the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol on trade between NI and the rest of the UK. The impediments and customs checks between NI-GB on certain agri products as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been seen by some loyalist groups as the UK gov't in Westminster turning its back on NI, in allowing it to be treated differently from England, Scotland and Wales.
    • Finally, there is also the impact of COVID-19. Many of those taking part in the violence were youths linked to gangs. The youngest person arrested over the past week was just 13, showing that after more than a year of social restrictions, some of the violence may simply be young people acting out in an illegal manner as opposed to politically-linked rioting.
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-0981 |
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