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Understanding Six Nights of Reactionary, Loyalist Violence in the North of Ireland

“In February, the First Minister & senior members of her party, met with loyalist paramilitary groups. Eyebrows were raised over why the pair would meet with criminal organisations to discuss the impact of the NI Protocol.”

Conor McClean

By Conor McClean

Over the Easter period Northern Ireland witnessed loyalist frustrations fueling attacks on local communities. Disturbances in Derry, Belfast, Carrickfergus and Newtonabbey shows the desperation and anger deep-seeded within loyalist paramilitaries. 

Over 40 police officers in total suffered injuries, civilians had their cars set alight, a bus was petrol bombed, a photojournalist was attacked and roads where barricaded by youths – youths who have missed over a year of education, have been manipulated by disjointed fractions of loyalist aggression, and who have not been enlightened by the mistakes of the past.

On Wednesday night in Belfast, footage circulating on Twitter showed a public bus free-rolling, as the vehicle was attacked with petrol bombs.  Further trouble occurred when the police had to shut a gate, known as “the Peace Wall.” 

The barrier is at an intersection which separates the Shankill (loyalist) and Springfield Road (nationalist) communities. Youths from both sides began to turn on one another as petrol bombs, fireworks and bricks where lobbed over the gate like missiles.

The fury and violence throughout loyalist strongholds are echoes of the North of Ireland’s troubled past – a new generation expressing themselves through hate. Arlene Foster sat from her home tweeting mixed messages, first calling the rioters “an embarrassment”, then suggesting that the reckless rioting “takes focus off the real law breakers in Sinn Féin.”

Perhaps the most disturbing incident was the adults clapping on the sidelines, jeering on loyalist youths as they sprinted towards the Peace Wall gate, armed with bricks and masonry – adults who should know better, who lived through times of discontent, and who know full well that the only result of sectarian violence is the ultimate destruction of all our communities.

In February, the First Minister and senior members of her party, including Deputy Leader, Lord Nigel Dodds, met with loyalist paramilitary groups. Eyebrows were raised over why the pair would meet with criminal organisations to discuss the impact of the NI Protocol.

Foster defended her actions by claiming she is a “constitutional and political politician.” When asked about the meeting with the Loyalists Communities Council (LCC), she said that “conversations will continue.”

The LCC was setup in 2015, and represents three illegal paramilitaries: The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Red Hand Commando (RHC). The LCC, along with the Orange Order, strongly oppose the NI Protocol. There has been a clear message sent with hostile graffiti emerging throughout the province. 

The words “No Irish Sea Border” have appeared in various corners, but the purest form of hate and bitterness can be read in the message to workers at Northern Irish ports: “All Border Post Staff are Targets.”

The Chairman of the LCC, David Campbell – a figure steeped in controversy over remarks that many perceived to be racist – expressed his displeasure for the NI Protocol by saying this: “If it comes to the bit where we have to fight physically to maintain our freedoms within the UK, so be it.”

Campbell’s remarks come after NI Secretary, Brandon Lewis, said that elements of the NI Protocol “break international law” – most alarmingly, the Good Friday Agreement. An agreement that ended 30 years of war cannot be broken in a “very limited and specific way,” as he arrogantly imposed – a peace agreement that has been signed by nations throughout the world. 

The unlawful acts occurring in Westminster leave the DUP in a difficult position. In response, Unionists from all over are now beginning to stir the pot, creating confusion.

They believe that an Irish Sea border undermines the integrity of the United Kingdom, leaving the North as an economic sinkhole. Many unionists consequently feel they’ve been left behind by new the government’s vision of a post-Brexit UK. The love affair with the Tory Government is over. As the North of Ireland drifts further from London, the signs of a United Ireland become promisingly clearer.

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