Stormont faces a near-impossible task in quelling tensions in Northern Ireland

How the party stoking the anger speak with one voice with the party towards which much of that anger is directed?

The Stormont assembly is being recalled this morning for an emergency debate following the sixth consecutive night of violence in Northern Ireland. Seven more police officers were injured, a journalist for the Belfast Telegraph was assaulted and a bus hijacked and set alight as violence flared up on both sides of the Lanark Way interface in west Belfast yesterday, where the unionist Shankill Road meets the nationalist Springfield Road area, divided by “peace gates”.

Politicians across the spectrum in Northern Ireland have condemned the violence, as have the Prime Minister and Taoiseach. There is a recognition that Stormont politicians will need to speak with one voice today to bring an end to the violent disorder, but doing so represents a challenge while tensions and serious differences in perspective continue to fester among those politicians.

Arlene Foster’s response to the violence last night exemplifies the problem. The First Minister and DUP leader wrote on Twitter in response to the petrol bombing of a bus, with the driver still on it, that: “This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder. These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Fein. My thoughts are with the bus driver.” What looked to some like a message from the most prominent unionist politician that she understood the cause of unionist anger and that violence has absolutely no place in the expression of that anger looked to many others like equivocation and a further incitement of discontent.  

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There are three broad causes of these riots: the simmering unionist anger over the Irish Sea border as a result of Brexit; the decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein politicians for an alleged coronavirus breach at the Bobby Storey funeral; and loyalist paramilitary groups encouraging young people in their communities to go out and cause trouble, partly in protest at the first two reasons, and partly to push back against recent police action to curb their criminal activity and community influence. If you miss any of those out you fail accurately to capture the nuance of the situation in Northern Ireland, where serious political ideals are so often muddied with base politics and exploited by groups with other motives.

While the different parties place different emphases on each of the above, it is hard to see how Stormont will manage to speak with one voice. The DUP doesn’t want violence but it does want anger at the policing of republican events and the decision not to prosecute its partners in government over alleged coronavirus breaches, and it is still calling for the resignation of the chief constable Simon Byrne over the issue. That sentences demonstrates what a fine line they tread. It’s a question of how much space the other parties will give to that anger, how much legitimacy will be given to unionist concerns, and whether the DUP will be forced to soften. But the biggest part …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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