Over 55 police officers have been injured in Northern Ireland after several nights of serious violence and unrest in Belfast and surrounding areas. On Thursday, the Northern Irish government of Belfast was convening for an emergency meeting on what to do about the violence. On Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, rioters hijacked a bus and set it on fire before lobbing gasoline bombs at police.
The scenes of unrest drew swift condemnation from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. According to Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts, “crowds … were committing serious criminal offenses, both attacking police and attacking each other.”
This all took place as rioters hurled fireworks and other explosives over a “peace wall” erected by police. Johnson called on the protestors to cease the violence, noting “the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”
The violence in Northern Ireland is largely a response to worsening relations between the UK and Northern Ireland following the trade rules implemented in the aftermath of Brexit. Many Irish scholars predicted that this sectarian violence would once again grip the region, reminding many in the UK of the Time of Troubles that had only recently simmered down after decades of Irish insurgency.
The violence has been concentrated primarily in pro-British parts of Northern Ireland, with protesters venting their frustrations against the UK government. Many of the rioters have been incensed by recent tensions in the Irish government between Catholic and Protestant political groups. However, customs and border checks have been the main driving force behind the violence.
Illegal paramilitary groups, like the IRA and its various spin-off militias, have been accused of masterminding the recent violence. Irish authorities have accused these groups of teaching youths how to cause this mayhem, and then whipping them into a frenzy before setting them loose on the public. Assistant Chief Constable Roberts noted “We saw young people participating in serious disorder and committing serious criminal offenses, and they were supported and encouraged, and the actions were orchestrated by adults at certain times.”
The violence has largely centered on customs and border checks levied against items passing from Northern Ireland to other parts of the UK. This was put in place to allow Northern Ireland to not have a hard border with Ireland, continuing the peace assurances of the 1998 Good Friday accord that largely brought the Troubles to a close.