Riots in Belfast as Violence in Northern Ireland Likely to Get Worse in Summer Months

Although the recent death of Prince Philip has put a chill on the clashes, it is most likely temporary as there are layers to the uprising that go back hundreds of years.

Striking scenes of violence and destruction have recently come out of Northern Ireland. In Belfast, a bus was hijacked and set on fire by young people faithful to Loyalist or Unionist groups. Cars have been burned. Groups have thrown bricks and bombs at each other and even at police.

This sort of scene has happened in the region before, but not lately — until now.

Andrew Sanders, a professor at Texas A&M San Antonio, explains that the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland has decided that several politicians were not going to be prosecuted for taking part in a funeral last year at the height of COVID restrictions.

He states, “Now, the funeral was of a leading member of the Irish Republican Army and 24 senior members of Sinn Féin, which is a party that's had historic associations with the IRA, were at a funeral among 2,000 mourners. And, last year in Northern Ireland, there were pretty strict regulations in place for any public event, including funerals.”

“So, the perception was there that the politicians were allowed to do this, why aren't we allowed to do this? And, an inquiry was launched, and it gave us decision this week," he adds. "So, the riots is in direct response to that.”

Although the recent death of Prince Philip has put a chill on the clashes, Sanders points out that it is most likely temporary, because there are layers to the uprising that go back hundreds of years.

He said, “We're starting to get into the summer months in Northern Ireland. And, traditionally, we see a lot of marches, Those are from the Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist community. The Orange Order marches, the Apprentice Boys at Derry march. a number of organizations hold marches. When we go back to the 1960s, those marches were incredibly provocative. So, we know the summer months can be divisive, we know that it's likely that there's going to be trouble.”

The recent violence has been condemned, but according to Sanders, more could be done. “Rhetorically, we've seen a little bit of action from London, from the Westminster government. But, it's really not enough to send a few tweets and say, 'Stop this.' And ultimately, the fear is that more people, especially younger people, will be drawn in."

The violence in Northern Ireland comes just as the country was turning a corner. HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” brought tourists from all around to the area, and it was starting to boom.

“But, simmering away has been this conflict where a significant portion of the people in Northern Ireland experienced violence either directly or indirectly,” Sanders says. “And the spiral of retaliation, there's always potential for that, and that's where things can be really dangerous. Obviously, not just to the people who are directly affected, but for broader communities too.”

Brian Smyth, a Belfast city official, hopes for a community-wide reckoning. "I think that we've all got to kind of reflect on what we're doing at the minute,” he said. “it's just about our collective actions as a society and how we sort this mess out."

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