"Spiteful" EU responsible for worst violence seen in Northern Ireland in years, says historian

Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, in a rare show of unity, came together to call for calm after frustration among the pro-British unionists over post-Brexit trade barriers helped trigger some of the worst violence in the region in years, Reuters reports.

Clashes however continued to spread further into Irish nationalist areas on Thursday night with police responding to petrol bomb and stone attacks with water cannon. The White House joined the British and Irish governments in urging calm.

On Wednesday hundreds of youths in the British province’s capital Belfast set a hijacked bus on fire and attacked police with stones on Wednesday in scenes reviving memories of decades of sectarian and political strife that claimed some 3,600 lives prior to a 1998 peace deal.

A week of violence has injured 55 police officers and seen boys as young as 13 and 14 arrested on rioting charges.

“We are gravely concerned by the scenes we have all witnessed on our streets,” the coalition, led by rival pro-Irish Catholic nationalists and pro-British Protestant unionists, said in a statement. “While our political positions are very different on many issues, we are all united in our support for law and order and we collectively state our support for policing.”

Irish nationalists Sinn Fein predictably accused First Minister Arlene Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party of inflaming hostilities with their opposition to the new trade barriers that their supporters feel erase part of their UK identity.

After the UK left the EU at the start of this year, checks and tariffs were introduced on some goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland as the province was now bordering the bloc via EU member Ireland.

Out of sheer spite, the EU has chosen to interpret the rules as inflexibly as possible and cause maximum disruption. And, to make it even worse, Sinn Fein have been crowing mendaciously about how this leads inexorably to a United Ireland.

Ruth Dudley Edwards, historian.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised there would be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as result of Brexit, and unfettered trade between the province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

This, however, proved to be far from the reality, with critics of the departure deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol saying a border is now in effect in the Irish Sea, leaving unionists feeling betrayed by London.

Loyalists are also incensed that the government decided not to prosecute Sinn Fein for funeral last year of ex-convict, prison-escapee and IRA "Director of Intelligence" Bobby Storey, widely suspected of being an informer for Britain's Special Branch, that broke COVID-19 regulations.

Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis flew to Belfast on Thursday for talks with political and community leaders in a bid to calm the situation.

“I absolutely understand the challenges ... that people of the Unionist community have felt around the protocol” Lewis told journalists "But there is no legitimisation or excuse to take to violence.”

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