What problems does Northern Ireland face

Why the Northern Ireland conflict flares up again

It was never completely gone, the fear of a return of violence in Northern Ireland. Not even in the past 23 years of peace since the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that ended the brutal conflict.

But fear has grown again since the 2016 Brexit referendum. In Northern Ireland it created great uncertainty about the future status of the region.

Former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major were among the few politicians who always warned of the dangerous consequences of Brexit for the peace agreement.

Molotov cocktails and barricades

The violent riots in Northern Ireland over the past few days have also raised great concern in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. More than 70 police officers were injured in the riots. In addition, a bus was hijacked and set on fire.

The most recent violence began on March 29 in the Northern Irish city of Derry, in a unionist enclave surrounded by Republican-dominated neighborhoods. It was based on a group of 40, mostly young people under the age of 18, who fired Molotov cocktails and projectiles at police officers.

Young unionists are engaged in street battles with the police in Belfast

Similar outbreaks of violence followed in some cities, mainly in regions dominated by unionists and loyalists. When a so-called "peace wall" was torn down in Belfast on Wednesday, separating Irish nationalists and British unionists, the situation escalated.

What are the causes of the violence?

The violent riots are related to the longstanding criticism of the so-called "Northern Ireland Protocol". This contractual clause of the Brexit Agreement is intended to prevent border controls from taking place at the land border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

However, the Brexit Agreement has created additional trade barriers between Great Britain and Great Britain Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland remains in the EU customs area, so that the movement of goods between the two parts of the UK has to be controlled. These new formalities for goods in transit across the Irish Sea have caused great resentment among Unionists in Northern Ireland - who are advocating close ties with Britain.

Displeasure increased when certain products and groceries were temporarily no longer available in Northern Ireland earlier this year. The unionist party DUP then urged London to withdraw from the protocol by collecting 140,000 signatures.

Another reason for the renewed outbreak of violence could be based on a decision by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). At the end of March, it decided to stop investigations against members of the Irish Republican party "Sinn Féin" who had attended a funeral in June 2020 and thus violated Corona rules.

Controversial tweet

Arlene Foster, Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the unionist party DUP, commented on the recent outbreaks of violence in a controversial tweet. The dissemination of the pictures with the burning bus "only served to distract the Sinn Féin from the real lawbreakers".

But the latest riots cannot only be explained by a derailment of the political protests. In the Northern Irish press, some prominent Unionist commentators pointed out that there may be a connection with the current intensified fight against drug gangs by the British police and that they may have used the general political discontent for their own purposes.

Hard Brexit, hard consequences

While many unionists see the Northern Ireland Protocol as the cause of the aggravated situation since the final exit from the EU at the turn of the year, the Republicans come to a different analysis: in the Sinn Féin camp, it is assumed that Brexit as a whole is the problem. The harmful effects of the UK's exit from the EU for Northern Ireland had gone unnoticed for too long.

For the unionist party DUP this is now a problem. She had campaigned passionately for Brexit and even helped fund the campaign in the Kingdom. During the agonizing Brexit negotiations, she rejected any agreements that would have left trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland undamaged. Their goal was a hard Brexit.

Despite martial equipment, dozens of police officers have already been injured in the latest riots

Ultimately, the Withdrawal Agreement prevented the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland - but not the return of violence.

The overwhelming majority of the Northern Irish population rejects violence - regardless of whether they belong to nationalists, unionists or neither of the two political camps. But hardly anyone was surprised by the recent outbreaks of violence.