Church leaders unite in concern over recent riots in Belfast
Around 15 sporadic riots in Belfast sparked by the Northern Ireland Protocol, London’s solution to the Brexit deadlock in the EU’s single market, led church leaders to come together and call for calm and respect for the fragility of the peace process.
There is no doubt that the young loyalists who took to the streets, bombed a city bus and clashed with the police were expressing deep displeasure at their seeming even further separation from the UK.
Unionists point to trade difficulties across the Irish Sea over ease of crossing the Irish border, an EU territory, and call it a betrayal.
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It’s seen as a time for stronger language and there are many in the Stormont Coven ready to take a strong stand.
“My message to Boris Johnson is to recognize that he betrayed Northern Ireland,” said Jim Allister, a member of the assembly of the ultra-unionist Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV).
“If he believes in the unity and integrity of the UK, then he has to unwind the very deal he made, because it is this deal that destroys the integrity of the UK.”
Church leaders have taken the unusual step of issuing a united condemnation of the violence and the forces behind it.
The Right Reverend David Bruce, senior Irish Presbyterian, said: “For 23 years we have been learning to talk to each other peacefully since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Street violence has the effect of being like a solvent that dissolves the glue of community cohesion and colors and shapes our ability to speak.”
Brexit is undoubtedly the catalyst for the riots, the young loyalists on one side and then next week the response of the young Republicans.
But Northern Ireland has come a long way since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and there are frameworks and institutions in place to keep discussions and frustration to a minimum.
Critics of the system say sectarian politicians are making good use of deprivation in West Belfast so they have a fuse ready to ignite even if they continue to criticize the explosion in public.
“These young people revolting,” said Stephen Donnan-Dalzell, local trade union author and community worker. “Where are they? When you put a Molotov cocktail in their hand or a brick in their hand and say ‘you are fighting for your tribe here’, and you feel like you belong – c ‘that’s the problem. And I don’t think we’re past that point yet. “
The prolonged absence of violence is not necessarily a peace process, but its supporters, the church, community leaders, local businesses, say it has opened a door for them.
In 23 years Northern Ireland has come a long way, but that doesn’t mean the sectarian extremists have packed their bags and returned home.