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What is behind the riots in the North of Ireland?

Stormont. © Copyright William Murphy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leaders in the north of Ireland will be briefed on the ongoing violence at 10am on Thursday morning, shortly before the Stormont assembly is to be recalled from its Easter recess to discuss the unrest.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to be recalled after a night of violence in western Belfast (Béal Feirste) where police officers were attacked, petrol bombs were thrown, and a bus was hijacked and burnt.

When did the rioting begin?

The rioting that has broken out across the North began on March 29 in a small town outside Derry.

On Friday, April 2, rioters threw petrol bombs at police and since then there has been nightly violence in Belfast and parts of county Antrim (Aontroim).

On Saturday, April 3, thirty petrol bombs were thrown at police officers.

Over the Easter weekend, a total of forty-one officers were injured in the rioting, according to the BBC.

Factors behind the violence?

Nationalists, unionists, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) each offer their own explanations for the root causes of the violence.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) points to growing unease in loyalist areas over post-Brexit trade borders, undermining their sense of British identity.

Unionist parties have been calling for the removal of the economic border separating the North from the rest of the United Kingdom, which has already caused some disruption at ports.

The PSNI also cites the recent arrest of senior members of the South East Antrim Ulster Defence Association— a group associated with the drugs trade.

The republican party, Sinn Féin, attributes the violence to the "reckless rhetoric" of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and other unionist politicians.

The deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill condemned the violence saying, “those involved in violence, criminal damage, manipulation of our young people and attacks on the police must stop,”

The Democratic Unionist Party has placed some of the blame at the feet of the Public Prosecution Service for its failure to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin members for attending the funeral of the prominent republican figure Bobby Storey last summer in breach of Covid restrictions.

In response, the First Minister and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, called for the resignation of the PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne.

Others place the blame on Brexit, with Stormont's Justice Minister, Naomi Long, saying that Boris Johnson's "dishonesty" over Brexit border checks has contributed to the anger felt by loyalists.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also condemned the violence:

“I utterly condemn the violent attacks on police, a journalist, and bus driver over recent days in the North. Now is the time for the two governments and leaders on all sides to work together to defuse tensions and restore calm.”

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