In Northern Ireland, Old Demons Reappear

April 27, 2021
Mural in Londonderry

The Catholic Church is involved in trying to end the urban violence that has rocked the cities of Belfast and Londonderry (Northern Ireland) since the beginning of April.

Pour in a healthy dose of ‘hard Brexit,’ add a tightly packed measure of sanitary restrictions imposed from Westminster, and you have an incendiary cocktail for which Northern Ireland has the key: a single spark is enough to ignite it.

The spark happened during Easter week, when Belfast authorities gave up prosecuting several members of the Sinn Fein party - largely supported by Catholics - accused of violating health measures linked to Covid-19 during a funeral ceremony.

The capital of Northern Ireland then went up in flames, to the point that the police had to use water cannons on April 8 to disperse the Protestant rioters, which is a rare occurrence in a region where Catholics used to be showered by the police.

Disgusted, the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party - the Protestant Unionist Party – have called for Simon Byrne, the police chief, to resign, raising the tension one step further.

It was in this context that Bishop Noel Treanor intervened on April 9: the Bishop of Belfast asked politicians of all stripes to “to be more careful about their language as the city was engulfed in nightly violence.”

“Stop engaging in disturbance and violent activity now,” launched the prelate to the address of the young Irish Catholics who did took to the streets in order to answer their Protestant enemy brothers, then on April 12, they counted ninety wounded members of the security forces.

Molotov cocktails and fireworks were used against the police, a journalist was assaulted, and a driver injured in the assault on his bus. The city of Londonderry has also experienced similar violence.

“Sadly, over the past week, we have experienced a return to civic unrest and violence on our streets,” lamented Bishop Treanor, who warned the young demonstrators: “beware of being manipulated and controlled by others who urge you on to violence while they themselves stay in the background so that they don't get caught.”

These disturbances are occurring twenty-three years to the day after the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement - concluded on April 10, 1998 - ending thirty years of civil war between Protestants and Catholics.

Since then, Brexit has passed, with the establishment of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the kingdom, not to mention a growing number of measures imposed unilaterally in recent months by Westminster. This was all that was needed for the Loyalist Protestants who now feel betrayed by a British crown they once served faithfully.

“We must challenge those who seek to control and imprison us and our young people in the past,” concluded Bishop Treanor on April 9: a few days later, on April 13, Anglican and Presbyterian officials followed the bishop of Belfast, calling in turn for an end to the violence and a resumption of dialogue between all political actors.

Since there has been no government since January 2017 in Northern Ireland, Westminster is allowed to make unilateral decisions, such as the recent imposition of abortion and same-sex civil unions.