Nip it in the Bud

8 April 2021


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Violence Returns to Northern Ireland


Much as expected following Brexit, violence has returned to Northern Ireland. Brexit is only part of the problem, but it appears to have been the match that lit the fire. For about a week now, tires and even buses have burned in the streets of Derry, Belfast and towns in County Antrim. Children as young as 12 have been involved, and this suggests that some malevolent actors are behind the violence. This is not a spontaneous protest. Sadly, it will continue because Brexit is not going away. In addition, the sectarian divide was papered over with the Good Friday Accords; it was not eliminated.

Brexit figures in this because the unionists want to remain part of the UK. They do not want to be second-class Brits but rather see themselves as much a part of the UK as London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Brexit has created a situation in which there had to be a border between the EU and UK, and the only place where the two had a land border was the divide between the Irish Republic and Ulster. No one wanted a land border, so the British government has placed one in the Irish Sea. The checks on goods coming in from other three countries of the UK make the unionists feel separate. There are no checks along the Scottish-English border nor along the border separating Wales from England.

The Democratic Unionists backed Brexit believing it would help strengthen the union. However, the Johnson government put UK sovereignty ahead of the unionists' concerns. Put differently, the London government preferred the achievement of Brexit first, and if Northern Ireland had to suffer to get there, so be it.

Two other factors seem to have sparked this ugly violence. One is the police crackdown on organized crime. The paramilitaries fund themselves through criminal activities, and when the police enforced the laws, it set off a pushback from the hard men of the paramilitaries.

The other factor is the seeming favoritism toward the republican side. The Guardian reported, "the decision by the prosecution authorities not to take action against Sinn Fein leaders who attended the funeral of a prominent republican last summer in apparent defiance of lockdown restrictions appears to have precipitated the violence." The unionists take the view that the republicans can do as they please without consequences.

Naturally, all political parties in the province have called for peace. Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster of the DUP, condemned Wednesday’s attack, tweeting, "There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop." The deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein stated, "Those involved in violence, criminal damage, manipulation of our young people and attacks on the police must stop."

But will they? What incentive is there to halt? The people in the streets know. "It should be nipped in the bud," said Cailin McCaffery, 25, a postgrad researcher, as black smoke plumed overhead. "The fear is that the disturbances will get bigger. We don't want to relive what our parents lived."

Sadly, some places in the world seem more prone to repeating the mistakes of previous generations. Northern Ireland is such a place. What Ulster has had in the past is politicians who agitate within their own community to enhance divisions so that they can retain power and privilege.

Ms. O'Neill said, "There is an onus on every single MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] and other public representatives to address the tensions as we see them, to restore calm and to work with those credible community leaders and the police to provide leadership to confront these problems."

That is statesmanship. It is vital that the province finds a few statesmen among its politicians. Few believe things are going back to the awfulness of the 1970s. That is why such a return is both plausible and dangerous.

© Copyright 2021 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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