For the past week, starting on the Easter Weekend, the streets of Derry-Londonderry, Belfast, and other areas have been littered with small groups of rioters. Since the initial riot, more than 80 PSNI Officers have been injured by rioters; petrol bombs and other loose missiles have been favoured weapons.
Since the news broke about the riots, the first question posed by many media outlets has been one of who’s to blame? After all, there’s no smoke without fire. The two primary suspects are the Unionist political leadership and the other is the Brexiteer leadership in Downing Street.
Due to the large influence of the various loyalist Paramilitaries in the areas where rioters have been active, it was initially considered that fragments of the UDA and UVF had influenced the rioting. However, the PSNI has confirmed they no longer consider this to be the case. Something that is for sure is that this is a loyalist riot; but the primary cause remains disputed.
From the perspective of the Unionist community’s political leadership, the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) is to blame. The Brexit agreement’s black sheep has caused continuous tensions since the new year came into effect. Earlier last month, loyalist paramilitaries graffitied sights near the various Border Control Posts implemented under the NIP; these posts are designed to ease the burden of UK domestic trade between GB and NI. In addition to this, the LCC, the Loyalist Communities Council, formally withdrew their support of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in March. These two events are considered to be linked to the current riots despite the PSNI’s understanding that loyalist paramilitaries have NOT organised and influenced the riots.
Another point of contention believed to have influence the current riots is the failure of the PSNI to enforce Coronavirus restrictions during the funeral of IRA intelligence leader, Bobby Storey. Among the 2,000 mourners were the Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, and Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald. Despite the clear violation of coronavirus restrictions, the PSNI’s Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, refused to issue fines. Despite calls from significant political figures since the riots broke out, Mr Bryne has refused to step down from his position. In a tweet, Mr Byrne stated “Violence is not the answer”.
In Great Britain, the primary target of blame has been neither the Unionist political leadership or the loyalist paramilitaries. Instead, the UK Government has been blamed for their misleading governance during the Brexit period from 2016. In various interviews, senior government officials, including the Prime Minister and leader of the House of Commons, had issued statements claiming that a hard Brexit would have no impact on either the Peace Process or Northern Ireland’s economy; despite this, the Northern Ireland economy and the peace process have both been threatened.
Because of these uncertified claims, there is a debate over whether or not the government — already being criticised for its long-term cronyism and misuse of taxpayers’ money during the pandemic — is to blame for the breakdown on Belfast’s streets. Arguments in favour of this interpretation is that the government willing mislead the British public, including the British community in Northern Ireland, during the Brexit era. In defence of the British government, however, are those arguing that the decisions taken by the PSNI, as well as agitation from the EU, has caused the rioting.