X Close

Ulster’s lost boys turn violent Lockdown and Brexit have drawn a new generation into an old conflict

A Loyalist protest turns violent at the Belfast peace line (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

A Loyalist protest turns violent at the Belfast peace line (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)


April 9, 2021   7 mins

It’s flying through the air again. Masonry, metal rods, petrol bombs, the detritus of rage, the kind that the poet Ciaran Carson once dubbed “Belfast confetti”. The riots in loyalist areas of Northern Ireland started with the Easter Weekend and have carried on ever since, injuring 74 police officers. Scores of young Protestants, some only 13 and masked for all the wrong reasons, have been flinging missiles at police vans, petrol-bombing and hijacking a city bus, and fighting with Catholic youths through a smashed gap in the West Belfast “peace wall”.

What’s it all about? As ever when Northern Ireland catches fire, the match does not fully explain the kindling, although the two are closely related. The match, in this case, was the decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to charge any Sinn FĂ©in politicians with breaking Covid restrictions during the funeral last June of Bobby Storey, a former IRA intelligence director.

Sinn FĂ©in has never been a party to play down a funeral, apart from those the IRA brought about, and Storey’s was a notable event. Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn FĂ©in Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, headed the procession along with Mary Lou McDonald, the party leader, and Gerry Adams, the former party leader. More than 2,000 people lined the route and followed the cortege, and a snap showed O’Neill with a fellow-mourner’s arm around her, displaying a cavalier disregard for social distancing.

After a public and political outcry, an independent investigation by the Cumbria Constabulary drew up a file relating to 24 Sinn Féin representatives. But the public prosecutor recently refused to take it further, on the basis that the Police Service of Northern Ireland had been substantially involved in agreeing the Storey funeral arrangements in the first place. The perception among Unionists, and some Nationalists, was that Sinn Féin politicians were blithely operating outside the rules, and that the PSNI leadership was helping them do it. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and first minister, called for the resignation of Simon Byrne, the PSNI chief constable. So did every other Unionist party. He has thus far refused to resign. Against this extraordinary backdrop of authority in chaos, ordinary police officers are now going up nightly against crowds of youths wielding Molotov cocktails.

The scenes on the streets are depressing ones, reminiscent of the dark days of the Troubles. The young rioters themselves are, of course, directly responsible for their violent actions. But behind them, particularly in South East Antrim, one can sense the steering hand of older loyalist paramilitaries. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the Loyalist Communities Council — an “umbrella group” for the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando — announced its withdrawal of support in early March for the 1998 Good Friday agreement. The reason was its anger at the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which creates a sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom by keeping the former a part of the EU’s single market for goods.

Both loyalists and the wider Unionist population feel strongly that the Protocol fundamentally undermines Northern Ireland’s position in the UK, an analysis which most outside observers would surely find hard to counter. The question now is what anyone is going to do about it. Although the LCC was careful to say that opposition to the Protocol should remain “peaceful and democratic” the declaration sounded — and was fully intended to sound — an ominous note. And this Good Friday, in terms of peace, was a bad one.

I have reported on riots in Northern Ireland, and the unfortunate truth is that for the youths involved they are often wildly exciting occasions. The tacit permission conferred by “political anger” allows young people out on the streets, drinking lager and setting fire to things in a kind of carnival of rage: whoops and laughter are inevitably mixed in with the guttural yells.

There will be serious and sometimes irreparable costs, of course: injury to police officers and rioters themselves, damage to vehicles and property and the possibility of acquiring criminal records. Last week a loyalist rioter set his own clothes on fire. It was at a republican riot in Derry that the young journalist Lyra McKee was shot and killed in 2019. Such considerations might certainly weigh heavily with the more responsible local parents. But they will make little impression on a teenager clutching a petrol bomb, springy with adrenalin and pent-up frustration, particularly after a year in which Covid restrictions have rendered daily life more constricted and colourless than normal.

For most of these rioters, too, violence or the threat of it will be far from abnormal to them, despite the official “peace” in post-1998 Northern Ireland. They have grown up in largely Protestant working-class areas, dominated by the presence of former or current loyalist paramilitaries, many released early from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Some of these ex-prisoners are now salaried “community workers”. Among their ranks, some are no doubt sincere about helping young people avoid the vicious sectarian brutality which warped and defined their own lives. Yet numerous others have energetically exploited the “peace” to celebrate sectarianism and expand criminal empires involving drugs and extortion. They entrench their fiefdoms by dispensing beatings and shootings, sometimes fatally, to any fellow-Protestant who crosses their path.

In the years since 1998, little has been done to restrain them. The unspoken official bargain with both loyalist and republican paramilitaries has been that — so long as such organisations hold off on explicitly sectarian murders — they will be broadly untroubled by the authorities. The efforts of the PSNI to hold such criminality accountable have often been hampered by the lack of a wider political will, and reluctance of witnesses to give evidence. The British government imagined, perhaps, that with time and the steady flow of government grants operating as some kind of opiate, the loyalist paramilitaries would eventually grow tractable. If so, it was a miscalculation.

Since 1998, Sinn FĂ©in — many of whose prominent members were in the IRA — has attained ever more political clout, making striking electoral gains in the north and more recently in the south. But parties representing the loyalist paramilitaries have been hampered in their political ambitions by the fact that the bulk of the Protestant community simply declined to vote for them. This has created a disparity of influence of which the loyalists are both keenly aware and resentful. The paramilitary murals in loyalist areas have become more explicitly menacing, deliberately evoking the murderous height of the Troubles.

One grouping in particular, the South East Antrim brigade of the Ulster Defence Association — thought to be most heavily involved in the drugs trade — has recently upped the ante, making open death threats against journalists and politicians who have exposed or criticised it. It was further enraged by the recent arrest of four of its members by the PSNI on drugs charges. It is perhaps not a surprise that names of areas in which this brigade dominates – including Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Ballymena — all featured in recent reports of rioting.

The young Protestant rioters we now see on the nightly news are the children of post-ceasefire Northern Ireland. They are in many ways its lost boys. In their streets — unlike more middle-class areas — the paramilitary threat never went away. A couple of years ago, I recall attending a community event for schoolchildren on the Protestant Shankill Road in West Belfast, in which a travelling theatre group put on a lively play meant to illustrate the dangers of getting sucked into the criminal orbit of the paramilitaries. Afterwards, there was a question-and-answer session that included a local policewoman. The teenage boys behind me — quick-witted, both cocky and vulnerable — had watched the play attentively, and later one of them spoke up to ask: “Are the cops scared of the paramilitaries?” The policewoman rather predictably assured him that they weren’t.

Afterwards, I asked him why he had posed the question. It emerged that his father had been shot in the legs by paramilitaries for alleged “anti-social” behaviour years earlier. When he himself had got into an argument with another boy at school, one whose father was “connected,” his family had been warned to leave their house immediately or face the consequences. A local “mediation” service had managed to get the threat lifted, but I imagine its potential return never felt very far away. The entire landscape of his childhood had been laced with menace, in which the rest of society appeared largely uninterested. As such youths grow up, the local hard-men can appear as their tormentors, role models or, paradoxically, both things at once.

Working-class Protestant boys have the lowest educational achievement in Northern Ireland. The shipyards and mills that provided their ancestors with employment have melted away. A wealth of potential talent often lies untapped, as I am reminded every year when I see the annual Twelfth of July bonfires that so many toil long and hard to build, teetering miracles of engineering — bemusing to outsiders — which will do nothing more than blaze fiercely and briefly, emitting clouds of noxious smoke. Politically, there is a sense of embattled defensiveness, of belonging to a community inexorably on the slide away from a UK which is increasingly contemptuous of them, and towards a Republic of Ireland which is even more so.

The majority of Unionists — including many people in working-class communities — will regard the rioting with deep disapproval, and want it stopped. But that will not eradicate their abiding dislike of the Protocol, and the effect it is having on businesses, trade and their sense of Britishness. They have been cut adrift by Boris Johnson’s vision of Brexit, in a way that even those Unionists who backed Brexit did not foresee, and which Johnson himself had explicitly promised would not happen. Perhaps they should have predicted what Johnson would actually do, and not listened to what he said, but then it has been a recurrent tendency of Unionists to place excessive faith in the word of a British prime minister.

In appealing for peace on Northern Ireland’s streets, however, the British Government faces one great obstacle: the widespread perception in Belfast that violence — or the threat of it — works to secure political ends. That perception has flowed in part from the peace process, and not without reason. The SDLP politician Seamus Mallon once recalled asking Tony Blair why he spent so much more time in private talks with Sinn FĂ©in, when the moderate SDLP was at that time the larger party. Blair replied, memorably: “The trouble with you fellows, Seamus, is that you have no guns.”

An oft-repeated phrase in the peace process was “parity of esteem”. As Unionists see it, that is rapidly eroding. What loyalist paramilitaries seem now to be seeking is “parity of menace”. When considering where a customs border might be placed in the event of a hard Brexit, it was repeatedly emphasised — most passionately by the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar — that a land border was unconscionable, lest it run the risk of reigniting republican violence. This argument was taken very seriously by the US and EU, and no land customs border was forthcoming.

The opposite possibility, however — that a sea border might do the same to loyalist violence — scarcely seemed to figure on the international radar. Johnson’s Government showed a blithe disregard for the danger, although Theresa May had previously taken steps to avoid it. But by showing that Unionist concerns will be downgraded rather than run any risk of republican violence, the British Government and the EU have now created an awful incentive for loyalist paramilitaries to demonstrate an equivalent level of threat.

That incentive is not just implied, but actually written into Article 16 of the Protocol itself. There, it states that UK or the EU can unilaterally suspend aspects of the Protocol’s operation if it is causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”. That’s the political equivalent of a teacher telling a delinquent school pupil that they can only get out of a locked classroom by setting it alight. The loyalist paramilitaries — whether by instinct or conscious design — will now make it their business to create “serious societal difficulties” that are “liable to persist”. It’s a terrible script. And unless Britain and the EU can somehow rewrite it, fast, it’s going to make for a very long, hot summer.


Jenny McCartney is a journalist, commentator and author of the novel The Ghost Factory.

mccartney_jenny

Join the discussion


Rejoignez des lecteurs partageant les mĂȘmes idĂ©es qui soutiennent notre journalisme en devenant abonnĂ©s payants.

Subscribe

To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

87 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Violence such as this is never justified, but this is the sad but inevitable outcome of a complete disregard and betrayal of unionist interests in Northern Ireland by the US and EU, Ireland and yes, ultimately, the UK.

Never mind the shameful NI Protocol, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was no longer fit for purpose the moment the Principle of Consent enshrined within it was wholesale expediently jettisoned and talks of the impossibility of any sort of land border on the island of Ireland were touted about as being a fundamental breach of it.

A claim that was entirely false incidentally.

Even if it were true, which it isn’t, a sea border between NI and GB is no more acceptable or in line with the GFA without the consent of NI unionists than a hard land border would be on the island of Ireland without the consent of Irish Republicans.

Irish politicians long knew that a failure to reach agreement would result in Ireland having to put up a land border in order to protect the EU’s single market – frankly, it’s primary concern, despite the preserving peace rhetoric – and this is the fallout we’re left with.

Little wonder that EU chief negotiator Monsieur Barnier, as shown in the BBC’s Brexit Behind Closed Doors documentary, was heard back in 2018 freely and disturbingly admitting that he fully intended to use the fragile peace in Northern Ireland to serve the EU’s own political ends and preserve its precious single market at ALL and ANY costs.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
Bertie B
Bertie B
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Well said – the border in NI was always going to be the biggest stumbling block to a successful Brexit, and it was obvious from very early on in the process that the EU were going to exploit it.
As far as I see it this violence is entirely the fault of the EU (there was no way of negotiating a better Brexit that didn’t cause this same issue) – but as the article alludes to, Sinn FĂ©in is also a problem.
There will never be peace in NI until the republicans fully distance themselves from the violence and accept that reunification of Ireland has to come about via democratic processes – and due to the long shadow of the violence this will take generations.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Bertie B

I rather thought Republicans were waiting until they had the numbers to win a referendum on unification.Only problem is if this happens there would be a large unionist contingent for Eire to deal with and the southern Irish could no longer use Britain for its freebies-social security , NHS etc as well as coming to Britain for work under the 1930 (?) agreement, because they would become a new country.

Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Actually social security rates for the unemployed and state pensioners in Éire are a lot higher than in the UK. Happily more than 100,000 Britons have chosen to move to Éire over the last few decades, so the traffic is now two-way. Éire also happens to import far more from the UK than she exports, although that may shift rapidly post Brexit.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Yes. The people of Northern Ireland did not consent to Brexit, explicitly opposed it, and a hard Brexit inevitably meant a border somewhere.
This was as clear in 2016 as it is in 2021 but was ignored by those who wanted the votes in England and Wales that they thought bringing about a hard Brexit would give them. A reliance on partisan Nationalism to gain power in England was always going to have consequences in a multi-national Union.
Is there any incentive for the current government to do something to sort this out? Not soon, there are no votes in it. The only way of doing so would be to appear to be conciliatory to the EU (and Ireland) and they are too far gone down the road of flag waving ‘sovereignty’ for the time being. A softening of approach would potentially cost votes – or more importantly headlines. They have already given up on votes from Scotland or Northern Ireland. Their former DUP allies will be very careful of trusting them again.
People can blame it on the EU (or, bizarrely, the US) all they like. This is a mess of the Conservative’s making.

nicktoeman4
nicktoeman4
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

How can you justify absolving the EU? They were ruthless in exploiting the border issue during the negotiations, but worse still, they have used the protocol over-zealously – they must (or should) have known the serious risk of it causing exactly the troubles that have occurred.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  nicktoeman4

UK Government knew same as EU. The difference is the UK Government is responsible for NI. Since we left it the EU has no responsibility. That was the point of leaving. Govt could have gone with Norway type option but went ‘hard’. People in NI pay the price.

nicktoeman4
nicktoeman4
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

No. Our soil was OK a few months ago and our regulations haven’t changed, same with other stuff. The EU is playing hard ball instead of giving time for a smooth transition when it’s clearly needed to avoid sectarian trouble.
This undermines the GFA, which the EU pretended to care so much about. It has a responsibility not to put citizens’ lives in jeopardy, even those of neighbours like us, by deliberate provocation. The EU is quite capable of flexing its rules, as we very often see. Please don’t make excuses for this so-called ‘project for peace’. You may wish we had stayed but that’s not a good reason to overlook such shocking behaviour.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  nicktoeman4

And their people were OK to come and live and work here a few months ago. Nothing about their people changed. We changed, not the EU, not Ireland.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Nobody in the UK has ever voted for ever closer union and never would. The only thing that changed in the UK was that the attempt by politicians to slip ever close union past the electorate failed.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

Since you bring it up, closer union would always have depended on a new treaty to give the EU the new powers needed. All EU members have a veto over that process. We would have too.
But let’s not refight the whole sorry Brexit debate here. We’re supposed to be talking about the rioting in Northern Ireland.
The PM promising repeatedly that there would be no friction, and then ministers denying it when it happened, will not have built any trust in the Loyalist community.
We need more flexibility in the implementation of the NI protocol (particularly around mixed loads, personal shipments, and goods not for further export beyond NI) – but the UK and NI government for their part need to make good faith efforts to prepare for and implement the NI Protocol’s provisions, if we expect flexibility in return.
Halting work on the checkpoints (as an NI minister did recently) may not be the best way to do this. Unilateral suspension of obligations (as Boris did on successive days just as the agreement was about to be ratified in Europe) probably won’t help. And worst of all for businesses and citizens alike are government failures to deliver the promised help to businesses in NI and GB who are affected by the new arrangements.
The people of Northern Ireland – and the rest of the UK – deserve better.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

The constituent parts of the UK, NI, Scotland, Wales and England, are not sovereign, the UK is.

Defining or, more accurately, redefining the UK-wide vote according to one constituent country, one county, one region, one class, one ethnic group, one socioeconomic group, one political persuasion etc has become a popular political pastime amongst remainers and nationalists alike, and it’s not exactly difficult to see why is it?

If you’re of the opinion that there shouldn’t ever be any further specific democratic reference to the seemingly inexorable trajectory of the European Project and, presumably, there shouldn’t ever have been any in the first place, then feel free to state that position plainly now, as you certainly seem to be inferring it.

Whilst you’re at it, presumably you’d also like to see Ireland’s effectively unique veto on European treaties removed,?

All in the spirit of democracy of course

Perhaps it might also serve to refresh your memory, given the sensitivities of this subject apparently felt by the EU, that it was not that long ago that the European Union was on the brink of unilaterally revoking the Protocol and imposing the very border it previously claimed it was seeking to prevent at all costs on the island of Ireland for reasons which can only be described as politically motivated and vindictive.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Don’t understand paragraph 3. Yes, announcing revocation of protocol was daft and clumsy and withdrawn within a few hours.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Actually it is a “mess of the” Liberal Party and in particular of the late Herbert Asquith.
Had Asquith not been salivating over the voluptuous body of Venetia Stanley in the summer of 1914, the Irish Home Rule Bill would have been fully enacted and the problem solved.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Was she really voluptuous?
If so you can not really blame Asquith.

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Is there any incentive for the current government to do something to sort this out? Not soon, there are no votes in it. The only way of doing so would be to appear to be conciliatory to the EU (and Ireland) and they are too far gone down the road of flag waving ‘sovereignty’ for the time being.”
What is this “only way”? And if it “would… appear to be conciliatory to the EU (and Ireland)”, how and why would it persuade young Unionists to lay down their Molotov cocktails and half bricks?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  David Brown

It wouldn’t necessarily persuade the kids but it would remove the political backing from the Unionists.

‘Only way’ – time will tell. Membership of single market in some compromised form, I guess.
Remember, NI didn’t vote for a border or Brexit.

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

“[I]t would remove the political backing from the Unionists.”
What political backing do the Unionists have in the first place?
“Remember, NI didn’t vote for a border or Brexit.”
But the Unionist elements there accept that the UK did, as a whole, vote to leave, and as they wish to remain part of the UK, they’d rather leave the EU as part of the UK that remain in the Single Market neither one thing not the other, or, worse still, as part of the Republic.
But your “something to sort this out” will not sort “this” out when “this” is Loyalist youths hurling petrol bombs and stones. You admit that yourself: “It wouldn’t necessarily persuade the kids…”

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  David Brown

If the rioters have no political or electoral backing, in the short term they are a policing problem. In the longer term we need to address the issue of why so many kids have so little investment in society.

Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Theresa May’s Brexit deal would have avoided this situation. As was pointed out before the referendum, you can have a hard Brexit with the potential for regulatory divergence, or you can have regulatory alignment and frictionless borders. You can’t have both.
Once her deal was rejected a border was going somewhere. The 300 mile land border runs through people’s kitchens. It was used historically by the IRA for epic levels of smuggling. It would be a nightmare to police, let alone the political risks of reintroducing physical checkpoints between areas that are overwhelmingly nationalist on both sides of the border (i.e. almost all of it).
A sea border at a handful of ports that already had checks on live animals was pragmatic and less physically visible, but you’re right to say that it places restrictions within the United Kingdom which impact on parity of esteem within Northern Ireland. The EU and the UK both need to be flexible and realistic, but trust is low.
The UK initially refused offers to extend grace periods while the bureaucracy was being sorted out, only to extend them unilaterally when they realised that the technocrats were right about the level of paperwork that could be involved e.g. in buying booze via Amazon.

Last edited 3 years ago by Eamonn Toland
G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Eamonn Toland

Theresa May’s deal might have avoided this situation, but it in no way constituted the UK leaving the EU and its jurisdiction.

The people who voted for Brexit knew that full well, so little wonder there was an almighty, bitter protracted parliamentary battle in the UK to ensure that her ‘deal’ ultimately didn’t fly.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the UK government has handled this appallingly and I agree that there needs to be far greater flexibility on both sides, but the way things are it’s hardly a surprise that many unionists feel betrayed and we’re now seeing what we’re seeing.

In terms of the border going ‘somewhere’ there seems little doubt that placing it in the Irish Sea is no less controversial than placing it on the island of Ireland, the only difference being which group are you going to choose to alienate and, more to the point, why.

Now I appreciate this might be playing politics, but both Ireland and the UK have long pledged not to erect a hard border and thus it is essentially the EU, co-guarantor of the blessed GFA, who is insisting upon one in order to protect its single market, NOT to protect peace in NI.

On a broader point, what this reinforces is the belief held by many that the EU is the proverbial Hotel California that you can check into, with or without specific electoral consent incidentally, but you can never, ever leave, and as more and more people wake up to this both the EU and member governments had better hope that ‘its citizens’ are fully on board with this technocratic, hegemonic ‘grand projet’, or what’s happening in NI at the moment is going to look like little more than a playground tiff.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Theresa May’s deal might have avoided this situation, but it in no way constituted the UK leaving the EU and its jurisdiction.

During the campaign we were told that we could leave the EU and stay in the single market, and that claims to the contrary were “project fear”. The Norway Model was praised by Farage among others (Norway is in the single market and not in the EU).
After the referendum, Mrs May’s deal, which would have avoided the Irish Sea border was opposed by hard Brexiteers (not hard enough) and by the DUP (treating NI differently).
As things stand, Mrs May’s deal fell. NI is being treated much more differently than the rest of the UK, and it is still in the single market. The DUP are, in a surprise only to themselves, outraged. And English Brexiteers have by and large forgotten about NI.
If the government could apply itself seriously to streamlining the NI protocol, and mitigating the consequences, there might be less anger in NI (Apart from the DUP who are professionally angry, presumably with one eye on the next NI Assembly elections).

CYRIL NAMMOCK
CYRIL NAMMOCK
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Violence is sometimes justified.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  CYRIL NAMMOCK

“War is the father of all things”

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

The problem is the Eu appears unwilling to rewrite the NI protocol because it was reported that Barnier stated that the Eu wanted to force NI out of the UK as the price of BRexit. All the actions since we left the Eu appear to back that up, some examples:

  1. The original explanation of the protocol was that goods passing into NI to go into RoI were to be checked but goods coming to NI for resale were not. This has been changed, so NI has now been removed from the UK single market, a breach of the GFA in letter and spirit.
  2. The Eu rejected the idea of remote checks at the point of delivery instead insisting on physical infrastructure that looks and feels like an international border. For all intents and purposes the Eu has already annexed NI.
  3. When the Eu had political issues with covid vaccines it wanted to invoke Article 16 and it only backed out when it recognised that it would do more damage to itself than the UK. The operation of the protocol has caused shortages of some food stuffs in NI. When the UK used provisions in the protocol to solve this the Eu threatened legal action. It’s clear the Eu have no intention of playing fair on the protocol.
  4. It has come to light that the Eu check more goods moving from rUK to NI than on any other point of entry into the Eu. 15% of all Eu checks happen on the rUK/NI border. The unequal implementation of the protocol is obvious and causing major resentment and confirms Unionists fears that the Eu is planning to annex NI.
  5. The protocol was sold to NI as “the best of both worlds” ie being in the UK single market and the Eu single market. It has ended up being the worst of both worlds. The Eu single market was only a side show to the NI economy. Now the protocol and it’s over interpenetration is causing massive disruption to the NI economy which will lead to a massive rise in unemployment and that will lead to a lot more trouble, on both sides of the community.

The simple truth is this is going to get a lot worse before it starts to get better. The only answer is the Eu accepting that their professed position as guardian of the GFA requires them to be flexible. If they don’t this will run for many years and will see the end of the GFA, mass unemployment and I suspect a return to what was called the “troubles”.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

“..it was reported” – who did the reporting?
Boris promised not to put a border on the Irish sea to Ulster….and he did that. Boris lied and he has lied all his life. Nothing new there.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

‘Boris promised not to put a border on the Irish sea to Ulster’

True.

I remember watching his speech in Parliament at the time.

If you so obviously change your mind you owe it to the people most affected by that volte face to explain why.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

NI direct, the NI government website said the protocol was intended to

“facilitate unfettered access for NI goods to the GB market, and the inclusion of NI goods in free trade agreements between the UK and third countries“

Anyone can see that operation of the protocol is failing in that objective.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago

The most telling phrase in this excellent piece is the idea of seeking “parity of menace”.

All my family are from Ulster, although I was brought up in England. Sitting comfortably over here, It is easy to imagine that the Troubles were consigned to history by the GFA but the air of menace still blights the lives of these communities and pushes young men towards violence.

To achieve peace too much was given to one side and the resentment that fostered has not gone away.

I have no idea how one resolves the situation- as with everything to do with Northern Ireland’s troubled past and present, one is forced to copy the old joke of the Irishman offering directions, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here”

Mickey John
Mickey John
3 years ago

“There will never be peace in NI until the republicans fully distance themselves from the violence and accept that reunification of Ireland has to come about via democratic processes – and due to the long shadow of the violence this will take generations”.

No. There will never be any peace in Ireland until the partition which was and is the result of a complete and utter disregard for the overwhelming and democratically expressed will of an entire people is ended once and for all. A century on , the people of the north of Ireland are still paying the price for London kicking the loyalist can down the road.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

1) England simply doesn’t care about NI. If it could give it away to Ireland it would happily do so. Ireland does care. That is the difference.
2) Demography is destiny. If my understand is correctly (feel free to correct me) Catholics are almost a majority. And as time passes by they will become the majority. Protestants know that.
3) USA (if it matters) will always back the Catholic part of Ireland and so will EU. And assuming that the rest of the world cares (and it doesn’t) it will support Ireland.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Spot on!

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Which makes the DUP’s wish to politicise the Irish border all the more perplexing. So long as nobody cared much about it, the Union with GB was secure. As soon as it became an issue, the Union looked a lot less secure.
But then the DUP have often been criticised as being brilliant at tactics, and hopeless at strategy.

Mike Spoors
Mike Spoors
3 years ago

As someone living in England this article highlights more about the tensions in NI than the conspiracy of misinformation that is peddled by Westminster and the mealy mouthed media that would prefer us to believe that all is well in NI. Not much talk of the ongoing tensions until they erupt, to be buried as soon as they subside. Just as, I suppose, that the use of the term ‘peace wall’ (News)speaks volumes about the real experience of life in Belfast and the cynicism with which ‘peace’ can be as debased as ‘truth’. As an observer of events in Ireland over decades I have no idea as to a solution acceptable to both sides of the divide but it is equally the case that no one else seems to either. And therein lies the tragedy.

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

part of this confusion is how the republic can be as woke as it claims now, yet support the IRA kneecappers and drug dealers

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  eugene power

Not to mention NORAID & the Kennedy clan.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

‘Buy a bullet, kill a Brit’ as the charming refrain used to go as they shook their collecting tins in the jolly ol’ Irish bars of Boston and elsewhere.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

We only ever managed to extradite one IRA killer from the USA, from the hundreds who fled there over thirty years.
Some “Special Relationship “.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

All politics is local. The Irish vote, no one in USA cares about NI Protestants.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yes, although a substantial number of Irish immigrants to the US were NI Protestants.
I gather it is where the the term ‘Hillbillies’ comes from. (King William’s men?).
However today all seem to associate with a Gaelic identity for some odd reason.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

The hillbillies (Appalachia) don’t care about NI.
It is what it is.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Cave Artist
Cave Artist
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Always made me laugh when Protestant Irish Americans supported the IRA.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  eugene power

Doublethink is no problem for most people.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  eugene power

Your evidence for the Republic’s current support for kneecappers and drug dealers?

Peter LR
Peter LR
3 years ago

Jenny, but was it not the case that Johnson inherited the Protocol from May and could only make slight adjustments? He was under pressure to agree something in case trade talks collapsed. I’m not sure he would have negotiated it in its present form had he been PM instead of May. Admittedly his assertion that there would be no sea border was unconvincing when he made it.

Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Actually this is on Boris, the ERG and the Democratic Unionist Party. Theresa May’s original proposal would have avoided the need for checks at borders entirely, but went down to the heaviest parliamentary defeat in British history. Retaining regulatory alignment while having total control over immigration was an impressive negotiating feat, but remaining aligned with the Common Market was seen as BRexit In Name Only (BRINO).
As was pointed out BEFORE the referendum, not least by the then Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, you can have a hard Brexit or frictionless borders, but you can’t have both. Once Theresa May’s deal was rejected, you have to decide whether to have a porous 300 mile land border that facilitates epic levels of smuggling by paramilitaries, or checks at a handful of ports, that already carried out phytosanitary checks on live animals following the Foot and Mouth crisis.
I can entirely understand the ERG reaction to May’s deal, but why the Democratic Unionist Party rejected May’s deal when they propped up the government I will never understand. Some have speculated that they welcomed the prospect of a harder border on the island, but they must have known the odds were pointing towards checks in the Irish Sea.

Last edited 3 years ago by Eamonn Toland
G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Eamonn Toland

‘I can entirely understand the ERG reaction to May’s deal, but why the Democratic Unionist Party rejected May’s deal when they propped up the government I will never understand.’

Pure speculation on my part, and perhaps I’m being too kind, but maybe it’s because the very essence of her deal in its ‘special’ interpretation of ‘Brexit’ actually transcended the relative parochialism of Northern Irish politics on this occasion and the DUP saw it in broader terms of what it meant for a UK that they wished to maintain the integrity of and remain part of and that had actually voted as a sovereign whole to leave the EU in 2016?

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

I would genuinely like to believe that.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

I suspect that Mrs May’s deal wasn’t a hard enough Brexit for the DUP, but that they found it tactically better to frame their opposition in terms of damage to NI’s status. At the time their objection made little sense to me on its own terms. In retrospect, it makes even less sense.
The problem is that they had a visceral dislike of the EU (some for political reasons, some because they saw it as the “beast” from the Bible’s book of Revelation). They privately welcomed a hard border with Ireland as strengthening NI’s separation from the Republic – forgetting that this would make the border a live political issue, and undermine the very consent on which Northern Ireland’s status in the UK depends.
As I said elsewhere – the DUP are good tactically, but have no strategic vision – and no empathy. It’s all “No Surrender!”

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul N
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

” Admittedly his assertion that there would be no sea border was unconvincing when he made it.”
He lied – is very simple! And he has lied all his life. His own children think he is a selfish lying……

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson
3 years ago

The EU had a choice of where to place the border it required. Ireland, their member state, could not tolerate a land border, so the NI protocol / sea border is the way the EU jumped. Simple. But, as has been said, this subverts the rights of NI Unionists exactly as a land border would have those of NI Nationalists. The EU doesn’t care about NI Unionists. It’s hard to think of anyone who cares about NI unionists. The recent insurrection is largely thuggery by youth, but there is a degree of orchestration and the degree to which NI Unionism has been betrayed – albeit, to an extent by their own politicians – should not be underestimated. I agree that there’s more mayhem to come.

J. Hale
J. Hale
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Wilson

A united Ireland is looking more and more likely in the decades to come as the UK government grows weary of dealing with this endless problem. Let Dublin inherit this mess.

Last edited 3 years ago by J. Hale
Marco S
Marco S
3 years ago

I moved to Northern Ireland to take up a job with the Health and Social Services board in 1979. As an English Protestant I was discriminated against from day one by managers and colleagues and finally driven out by threats and actual physical violence.. I can find nothing to recommend the experience other than weekend drives through the beautiful Antrim countryside.

Michael Burnett
Michael Burnett
3 years ago

A really succinct piece of writing. Thank you.

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago

The EU have stoked the tensions. The loyalists should target their fury at Paris, Berlin and Brussels, and EU officials working in Northern Ireland. Then maybe they’ll learn the lesson, it is foolish to intentionally stoke the tensions in Northern Ireland.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

Boris signed the deal after promising the exact opposite.

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yes Theresa May and Boris should have been on my list.

Paul N
Paul N
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

“loyalists should target their fury at… EU officials working in Northern Ireland”

Are you suggesting that EU officials should be intimidated or attacked? Were 30 years of the troubles not enough for you?

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 years ago

The media may have turned away, but the conflict never went away.

John Mcalester
John Mcalester
3 years ago

A very well written and incisive article.

As with many things Boris Johnson walks away whistling and saying ” nothing to do with me guv “

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
3 years ago

The likelihood is that NI will be reunited with the rest of Ireland within the foreseeable future – say a decade if the process is peaceful, less if it turns violent – and McCartney is right to ask what what will be the place of the protestant working class in an all-island Ireland.
The blame in this situation is not just Johnson’s. Varadkar, the EU and the US tied his hands. It’s as if they did not know that in Ireland violence pays. The 1970s want their policies back, as Obama might say. Protestant working class desperation is a word that McCartney does not use but it must be a factor. These people see themselves at bay, know the future is coming for them and that it will not be kind.
The situation in NI is similar to that in Scotland where the working class descendants of the mid-19th century Irish catholic immigration are a key part of the SNP’s base. Catholics in both NI and Scotland are agin English protestant dominated Britain.
NI protestants feel they are regarded with contempt by England as do working class Scots. No union can survive a lack of mutual respect between the parties. Moreover, In NI, London’s thumb always seem to be on the republican side of the scales.
Shinners must be happy to see Protestants fighting with the police and wondering whether it is more in their interest to be onlookers or play an agent provocateur role. We’ll find out soon enough.
It’s the job of England as the colonial power in Ireland for hundreds of years to solve the mess it left behind. But it is to be hoped that in some corner of the Berleymont, at least someone realises that the EU has fouled up again.

Last edited 3 years ago by Pierre Pendre
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Pierre Pendre

My suggestion is we offer those who do not wish to live in a united ireland a home in Britain. Scotland would be the ideal place as it is a place with links with the protestant community.As we are talking about 1 million people at most that shouldn’t be too expensive and what price can be put on peace?

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Yes, or maybe in the Falkland Islands. Give each family who don’t want to stay ÂŁ1m to start a new life. Must be cheaper and preferable to the alternatives

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
3 years ago

This is really outstanding writing.

M Spahn
M Spahn
3 years ago

At this point they will probably just have to resettle the Ulster Scots back in Scotland somewhere and be done with the whole thing. Chalk it up to another of Cromwell’s failed experiments.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  M Spahn

It wasn’t so much Cromwell that did so much to cause this unholy mess ironically as much as England’s first Scottish King, James I.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  M Spahn

Oliver Cromwell had little to do with it.
The ‘Plantation System’ started a century before under (Catholic) Mary, continued under (Protestant) Elizabeth and reached a crescendo under Scotch (Protestant) James I, as mentioned by G Harris above/below.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  M Spahn

Does Scotland want them? I get the feeling no one wants them. Certainly not England.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Perhaps the four core counties could dumped on the Scotch?
As you so correctly say, England doesn’t want them, as now they are an anachronism and an embarrassment.

ben sheldrake
ben sheldrake
3 years ago

Unfortunately violence and bad behavior were routine in Northern Ireland for many, many years. The region does not have any other power category to communicate with. Sadly, this is muscle memory now. Its ingrained.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

The EU and Ireland rejected the necessary collaboration to make a hi-tech frictionless land border work.

Similarly, the Tories offered the Irish government a grant to help them develop a hi-tech frictionless land border on their side.

This too was rejected.

I wonder why!

Because they knew the threat of Irish Unity would result in the rejection of the GFA.

The result, troubles in NI!

The solution. Erect a hi-tech frictionless border between Ireland and NI.

Oops, that needs EU and Irish collaboration.

The EU provides the conditions, the Progressive Alliance provides the narratives.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

hi-tech frictionless land border is a fiction of your imagination (actually the “journalists” that comment on the pages of DT/DM/Sun/Express/Spectator).

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Eamonn Toland
Eamonn Toland
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Logically a high tech frictionless border could go anywhere, including the Irish Sea. Hopefully with flexibility from the EU and the UK, Northern Ireland can have the “best of both worlds” it was promised in terms of trading access.

Pauline Baxter
Pauline Baxter
3 years ago

Seems obvious to me. Ditch the protocol and let EU worry about a border on the island of Ireland. That never was a problem any way borders nowadays are all dealt with by technology, not customs posts.
Mind you, BJ and his government have no b*lls to deal with anything. Except imposing dictatorship on the mainland.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Pauline Baxter

“…by technology, not customs post”. Utterly absurd but I am not surprised.
I don’t know about you but I have flown to Geneva (multiple times), rented a car and drove to France. There is a border/custom posts. There are (depending on the day) tens or hundreds of trucks waiting to cross the border.
Once (going back to SW) our van (full of skiers) was pulled over because meat (Yes, meat!) contraband is a big issue in SW.
Now, it could be that SW (member of EFTA), a highly sophisticated nation, can not manage the border technologically or it could be that you (and others like you!) are utterly utterly clueless! What do you think is the most likely choice?

David J
David J
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

He did say “let the EU worry” about the border.
I reckon that‘s an alternative to the present situation, and considerably cheaper.

Damian Grant
Damian Grant
3 years ago

I’m also from Northern Ireland and would also like to thank the author for this nail-on-the-head social and political analysis of what now seems to be becoming an increasingly intractable problem.

Swiveleyed Loon
Swiveleyed Loon
3 years ago

Perhaps they should have predicted what Johnson would actually do, and not listened to what he said’
It turns out we should all have done that.

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

Oh and did I add the US the EU and the republic using the same arguments as Hitler over the Sudetens

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  eugene power

So who will invade UK to take over NI? USA Or EU? Or both?

Phil Bolton
Phil Bolton
3 years ago

An excellent article which educated me in a concise and clear way the reason why we are where we are in NI. Sadly in this, and the many comments, there was a resignation that there is no solution now or seemingly ever will be.
You can also bet your life that the propagandists of China and Russia will be seeking to exploit the division and create greater discord.
Sigh.

Spiro Spero
Spiro Spero
3 years ago

A balanced article. Many thanks. So, it would seem that ‘project fear’ is v. swiftly becoming project reality on both sides of the Irish Sea. Who’dve thunk it?

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Last edited my first, hardly controversial post at head of this excellent article over 10 hours ago, and it’s still marked as ‘awaiting for approval’ which is rather a shame.

Cave Artist
Cave Artist
3 years ago

Bobby Storey a former IRA TERRORIST please from an organisation responsible for the murder of many innocent children. The prods are always more venal because they are more frightened. But yes rioting is fun. I don’t know what the police are doing that make 74 injured officers a thing, but PSNI needs to get a grip. In Belfast you have to dominate the streets, you are not pussyfooting around in Clapham.

Last edited 3 years ago by Cave Artist
Malcolm Haslett
Malcolm Haslett
3 years ago

Jenny McCartney’s article is indeed excellent, illustrating just how seriously the Good Friday Agreement has been undermined by Brexit.
But there is a further, very important point to be made. The bland assumption that a politically united Ireland is the natural and inevitable solution of the ‘Northern Irish problem’, along with the idea that the Ulster ‘loyalists’ would simply roll over and meekly accept this, are themselves major factors compelling Ulster inexorably towards a new round of violence. Proponents of this view seem to disregard the fact that the inevitable exultation shown by Sinn Fein at the achievement of their most cherished dream is exactly what fuels the loyalists’ determination to oppose it.
Northern Ireland is a unique and exceptional place, which needs a unique solution to its problems. Such a solution MUST take into account the interests of both of its communities (now more or less equally balanced numerically. It needs to pay attention to  the traditionally unionist as well as the traditionally nationalist sections of the population. The unionist element will not simply fade away.
The Good Friday Agreement almost achieved this, but it has been thrown wildly off course – not just by Boris’s deal – but by Brexit itself. 
It is now up to responsible elements on all sides to find a new way of balancing the interests and aspirations of the two communities in N Ireland, based on what is most important for ALL its people – the possibility of living together in peace.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
3 years ago

Starmer is personally to blame for this. His game of using Brexit to gain power for Corbyn made a no deal stance where is was the EU whom had to erect a border impossible. It is the EU that has sacrificed peace in NI for the BS of “preserving their single market”. All borders are porous as the drugs trade and illegal immigration illustrate. Starmer, Barnier and Biden have blood on their hands.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

Imagine actually believing this