“Troubles” resurface in Northern Ireland
Brexit and COVID-19 restrictions reignite sectarian tensions
Police in Northern Ireland’s capital city of Belfast detained three 14-year-olds last Friday. The region has seen more than a week of disorder, with protesters hurling Molotov cocktails at police.
Security officers fired water cannons at protesters last week for the first time in six years. At least 88 police officers sustained injuries in the riots. Demonstrators as young as 12 set a hijacked bus on fire and threw firebombs over the decades-old “peace wall” in west Belfast that has separated the predominantly Protestant loyalist communities from mostly Catholic nationalist communities. Law enforcement detained children as young as 13. Justice Minister Naomi Long criticized youth involvement in the unrest, saying “this is nothing short of child abuse.”
Saturday marked the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the deadliest fighting between Catholic republicans who wanted a united Ireland and Protestant unionists, or loyalists, who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom in 1998. But tensions began rising again in January, when Britain formally left the European Union. The violence died down this week, but issues that ignited the latest unrest remain largely unresolved.
Under the 1998 deal, Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, but the EU trade standards kept its border with the Republic of Ireland open. The new Brexit trade agreement leaves Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods, imposing border checks on products arriving in the region from Britain. The move has triggered delays at the Irish Sea border and left many shelves empty earlier this year. Many see the checks as undermining the Good Friday Agreement.
“The whole idea of the Good Friday agreement was to allow people to see themselves as free,” said Gemma Clark, a lecturer in British and Irish History at the University of Exeter. “The feeling on the loyalist side is that they’re going to be treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Protesters also criticize authorities’ March 31 decision not to prosecute 24 members of the ruling Sinn Fein party for violating pandemic restrictions by attending the funeral of Bobby Storey, a prominent member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). “Loyalists are also upset because they think the police are too sympathetic with the Catholics,” Clark explained.
Leaders from the United Kingdom and the European Union continued talks this week on trade regulations in Northern Ireland. Both sides are working on a standard for food safety procedures, construction, and other goods like medicines and steel.
James Calcutt, a postgraduate researcher at the Royal Holloway University of London, noted that Brexit is only part of a multifaceted problem in the region. He said many of the younger protesters came from working-class communities affected by the pandemic. Education Minister Peter Weir last week ordered youth centers in the affected communities to reopen after pandemic restrictions closed their doors. “At this time, it is even more important that youth services are able to meet the needs of young people in these areas,” he said.
China’s cyber regulatory body launched a tip line last week for people to report defamatory comments against the ruling Communist Party.
Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said the service would target people whose posts “distort” the party’s history, target its leadership and policies, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture.”
The latest censorship comes ahead of the party’s 100th anniversary in July. It is already illegal to defame the state’s heroes and martyrs, with possible criminal prosecution. Authorities in eastern Jiangsu province detained a 19-year-old last week after he commented online about Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing. —O.O.
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