Riots in the North - April 2021

Image Credit: Macnolete, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A friend asked me last week what was going on in the North. I had to Google it. I knew that kids were throwing petrol bombs, I knew about Bobby Storey's funeral and the border in the Irish Sea, I knew it was Easter weekend. But still, I had to Google it.

When my friend asked what was going on in the North, it was big news to him. But to me, and most people in the North, periods of violent outbursts are somewhat normal. Nothing compared to the peak of the Troubles but they do still happen. It's not unusual for your daily routine to be disrupted by a bomb scare. However, this outburst has lasted longer than previous occasions and as I look more closely at the reasons for it and arguments against it, this time seems different. 

Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland have felt a loss of identity since the country’s formation. Many in these communities feel that Ireland should be one country united and that our connection to the UK removes them from their Irish roots. On the other side, Unionists and Loyalists; in comparison, exist in a more privileged position in the North as they are loyal to Great Britain and cherish the connection with GB as it is their identity and culture. Many in this community voted to leave the EU in Brexit due to identifying as British. However, Brexit has resulted in a customs border in the Irish Sea. The alternative to this was a land border which would have only inflamed dissident republicans on the other side. So there has been a switch. The Unionist and Loyalist communities now feel a loss of identity and that they have been blindsided by the UK government. This, along with the rise in popularity of the Irish identity in Northern Ireland in recent years, has caused the Loyalist community to feel somewhat insecure about their position in the UK. This is the situation simplified. 

Recent catalysts for the riots in Northern Ireland are firstly the Northern Ireland protocol whereby, as previously mentioned, a customs border now exists in the Irish Sea between GB and the island of Ireland. Secondly, the PSNI did not seek action over Sinn Féin leaders breaking lockdown rules by attending the large funeral of IRA intelligence boss Bobby Storey. These are the given reasons as to why Loyalists have been rioting. The riots have also resulted in the Nationalist and Republican communities getting involved. What has me, in the words of BJ, “deeply concerned” is that Loyalist paramilitaries have withdrawn their support for the Good Friday Agreement. This agreement is the sole reason why I have been able to live my twenty-three years in a peaceful Northern Ireland. Without it, what happens? Regardless of what happens in NI, what happens with Brexit? And, on a really micro level, how will my life look? 

 My partner and friends live south of the border, I have an Irish passport and I identify as Irish. The Good Friday Agreement allows me to travel freely between North and South without even knowing I have crossed a border. It allows me to hold an Irish passport and still remain an EU citizen because of this. I cross a border to get to “Ireland”, it may not be a hard one but it's a border no less. I have to choose to have an Irish passport, the default is British. It's great that this is an option and travel between north and south is easy, but it is still a compromise that those who identify as Irish have made to live in a peaceful Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland protocol seems like a similar compromise for those who identify as British. Furthermore, it actually puts Northern Ireland at a unique economic advantage being part of both UK and EU markets and could really work well for Northern Ireland’s economy post-Covid if everyone got on board. 

Many who have lived through the Troubles have speculated that the teenagers involved in the riots are being used as pawns by older paramilitaries as they will not be prosecuted as harshly. Others have suggested that they are just bored. People have been inside for more than a year now and perhaps have more time to think about things like politics and to get annoyed about it. Kids have been at home for the best part of a year and are bored and so have maybe turned to riots as something to do. When asked, many of the rioters didn't really know why they were rioting. I understand that the perspective I have presented in this article is simplified and there is a deep history and culture that I will never fully understand on both sides. But, as a ceasefire baby, I hope that my generation can move past this and continue the peace that our parents and grandparents went through hell to achieve.