Politics is fanning the flames of violence in North

The scenes of flaming cars and hurling bricks are sadly not new in the North - a region still recovering from a history of violence and division
Politics is fanning the flames of violence in North

Police move in on loyalist rioters who had just set fire to a bus shelter and a hijacked car in the Tiger's Bay area of North Belfast. 

Northern Ireland has become blanketed in a cloud of volatility following the week-long eruption of riots which have left close to 90 members of the police force injured.

The scenes of brutality have been difficult to watch, with children as young as 12 taking part, many from working-class Loyalist communities being mobilised and capitalised-upon for political gain.

The scenes of flaming cars and hurling bricks are sadly not new in the North - a region still very much recovering from a history of violence and division. 

Those caught up in the disturbances which spread from Belfast to Derry to Newtownabbey have been led here before - young and impressionable being lured to the top of a hill, only to be abandoned and condemned once they have inevitably tumbled back down by those who led them.

Predictably, political Unionism manoeuvred to claim that the cause of the riots was community anger over the Northern Ireland protocol, the Bobby Storey funeral, and Loyalist discontent with the PSNI - all of which stem from the inflamed rhetoric of political Unionism itself. 

However, the majority of those involved were under the age of 18, riled up and incited into the streets. In reality, this is a dangerous game of political football, where children are being used as fodder.

As the smoke from the petrol bombs and fires clears, Unionist political representatives – some of whom have spent their careers actively seeking to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, and more recently, the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol - will attempt to use the scenes of violence to further their self-serving political aims. 

Blame game

Therein lies the duplicitous nature of the politics at play here. The blame game and political point-scoring will not help these communities or prevent further turmoil.

There is an inherent danger in fanning the flames of anger and discontent, the ramifications of which we are now seeing unfold. 

The outbreaks of violence do not reveal the supposed anger that political Unionism has been speaking of since the inception of the Northern Ireland Protocol - rather, it demonstrates the utter failure of leadership and the disillusionment of working-class communities.

There are real and pressing undercurrents at play here - the lack of opportunities and investment in these communities, poverty, nationalistic propaganda, failures on behalf of the education system, and the influence that paramilitary and militant groups still have. 

Instead of using this generation as political pawns, all parties must do what they can to ensure we look forward.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin addressed this on the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on Saturday, saying politicians owed it to the younger generation that the dark days of the Troubles do not return.

He said Northern Ireland must not "spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord" after another night of disorder.

Of the 1998 peace accord, he said: "Perhaps its most visible success is that a whole generation of young people have grown up not knowing or experiencing the violence that accompanied the troubles.

We owe it to the Agreement generation and indeed future generations not to spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord.

Pleas for calm eased tensions somewhat over the weekend but PSNI officers were still pelted with petrol bombs and masonry during three hours of disorder on Friday.

The disorder took place in the Atlantic Road area of Coleraine, Derry, where a crowd of about 40 people, many of them wearing masks, attempted to block the road by setting fire to pallets.

Police were also attacked with missiles and a car was set on fire in a separate incident at Tiger's Bay, a loyalist area in north Belfast, where three teenagers were arrested.

On Saturday, two men charged with rioting offences in the Lanark Way area of west Belfast during the week were denied bail at Laganside Court.

In the midst of the political fall-out surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol, there has been deliberate intention to mislead the public, where political Unionism purports to speak for the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, while in fact there exists no political party with a claim to any one community, let alone the entire populace.

They can at best claim to speak for those who voted for them, which in the case of the DUP is 225,413, the UUP 103,314 and the TUV 20,523, a combined figure of 348,98 out of a electorate of 1.33 million.

Steeped in poverty

Two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement and many of the regions and communities most affected remain steeped in poverty and segregation. 

Here is where attention should be directed. As a post-conflict zone, the North requires careful handling and added investment.

In responding to these violent outbursts, a question should also be raised over the persistent platform offered to those who were complicit in organising these violent and depressing events. 

We cannot continue to enable the propagation of views which serve only to fan the flames of instability and discontent even higher. 

So too should the legitimacy given to paramilitary organisations, these illegal groups are to be disbanded – not given a seat at the decision-making table.

All parties have a responsibility to show leadership and to stop promoting dangerous rhetoric, but of course that won’t further their aims, so they stick to the same dangerous tried and tested methods to attempt to achieve their self-serving goals. 

It falls to the rest of us to demonstrate what real leadership is. The people of Northern Ireland have transformed over the past two decades, embedding for themselves the true meaning of reconciliation and there is reconciliation all around us, one need only look. 

What is holding the people of Northern Ireland and the peace process back is politics.

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