Belfast Riots: what caused the violence?

Pasqueline Agostinho, is a member of the YCL’s London branch

It has been the seventh night of unrest in Belfast after hundreds of Loyalist youth held a protest in South Belfast after it was advertised on Facebook. The protest quickly turned violent after clashes with the police involved petrol bombs and bricks being thrown. 

Since April 2, 55 police officers and a press photographer have been injured alongside a bus driver following a hijack and petrol bomb attack on Shankill Road which has caused a strike by bus drivers.

Two nights ago, a car rammed into the gates of a “peace wall” in Lanark Way that was created to stop violence between the loyalist and nationalist areas. Subsequently, the gates opened and there were clashes between the loyalists and nationalists with petrol bombs being thrown to either side.

But why have the riots in Belfast happened? Who is responsible for them?

There are a couple of reasons. Last week, on 30th March, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) made a decision to not prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for attending the funeral of Bobby Storey, a former IRA member. The funeral broke strict COVID-19 rules as there were large public gatherings. The director of the PPS Stephen Herron said that there wasn’t enough evidence against of those reported to the police in connection to the funeral. 

As expected, the DUP and loyalist groups were not happy. But clashes have not just been seen in Belfast. They have broken out in Newtonabbey (where three cars were hijacked and set on fire on 3rd April), Derry, Ballymena and Carrickfergus also.

There is also significant anger over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol resulting from the Brexit deal made by Johnson’s cabinet. The UK government had two choices: either create a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or create a border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland (called the Irish Sea border). The UK government chose the latter in order not to openly break the Good Friday Agreement. 

A total of ten people have been arrested so far with the youngest being just 13 years old.

Daniel Roantree, YCL Edinburgh Branch Secretary and a Derry native who is currently visiting the North, told Challenge, “The last few nights have seen worrying civil unrest in the North of Ireland, particularly in Belfast. We in the Young Communist League are concerned to see our fellow young workers being manipulated, to the point of committing violence on behalf of cowardly politicians.”

He added, “The reason for this violence is simple; the DUP are running out of options, and so they use the only tool that is ever truly at the disposal of the ruling class; violence. On this occasion the violence comes from young people who they have tricked into this, by fear-mongering unionist leaders. Those same leaders will now pretend to distance themselves from the violence, as if it was “never their intention.” As always, the working class will pay the cost of the self-interested ruling class.”

He concluded, “Loyalist violence is political unionism in decay. It must be tackled, not by republican reaction, but by working class unity, something we have already seen displayed by many comrades in the north.”

Pasqueline Agostinho

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