According to the BBC, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported there was a 23% increase in bonfire related violence throughout Northern Ireland during this year’s 11th of July celebrations. Every year, Protestant communities celebrate the 1690 victory at the Battle of the Boyne that William the Orange had over the Catholic King James II. However, within cities that are still teeming with sectarian tension between Catholic-Republican-Nationalist (CRN) and Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist (PUL) communities, the cultural celebration is often times seen as a provocation of CRN neighborhoods. In East Belfast, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), who are a dissident PUL paramilitary organization, “intend[ed] to orchestrate serious disorder.” On the other hand, young dissident Catholic Republicans supposedly threw dozens of petrol bombs from Bogside neighborhoods in Derry-Londonderry into predominantly Protestant neighborhoods. After 20-years of the peace being established in Northern Ireland, tension is still high between CRN and PUL communities. Following the vote for the UK to leave the European Union, tension increased due to highly differing political opinions on Brexit.
Parties in Northern Ireland released statements condemning against the violence provoked by both members of the CRN and PUL communities. Northern Ireland’s main Catholic and Protestant parties said, “there must be a strong, clear and united voice against those who would engage in such disgraceful violence … As a society we must all stand with those who maintain law and order and who protect all sides of our community.” Although there is no thirst for the levels of violence seen throughout the ‘Troubles,’ any politically motivated provocation can threaten the current peace established after the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland. From the Associated Press, “I don’t think we will see a return to violence – Northern Ireland has come a long way in the last 18 years,” says Belfast resident and lawyer Conor O’Brien. “Most communities are opposed to more violence, even those who support the republican cause. But of course we are always concerned to an extent about a return to the bad old days of neighbors turning on neighbors. We have a fragile peace so this is a very frightening thing.” Superintendent of the PSNI Gordon McCalmont stated, “While we have seen many young people involved in these attacks over the last number of nights, it is clear this Is being orchestrated by a more sinister, adult, violent dissident Republican element. This cannot continue. This must end now.”
The major political parties, Sinn Fein for the CRN community and the Democratic Union Party (DUP) for the PUL community, have come a long way since the conflict ended in 1998. But both parties still have major differences that has put a wedge between Northern Ireland and their differences has led to the Northern Irish Parliament, Stormont, from being out of session since January of 2017. Despite their political disagreements, the joint statement condemning violence that members of both of the respective communities provoked gives up for a solidified peace in Northern Ireland and a step away from increased violence that was feared following Brexit.
The sectarian violence in Northern Ireland stems back hundreds of years, but the most recent and violent period lasted from 1967 to 1998 and is dubbed the ‘Troubles.’ The conflict was fought between the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) who widely represented the Republican movement to reunite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland and the British Army, who had the support of PUL Paramilitary organizations aiming to keep Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement shared political power between both groups, but tension has still existed due to dissident extremists, who disagree with the peace accords agreed upon. The vote to leave the EU has deepened the wedge between the CRN and PUL communities and may explain the increase of violence throughout the Battle of the Boyne celebrations.
Political leaders in Northern Ireland are doing a decent job encouraging the peace between the CRN and PUL communities. However, more credit must be given to the people themselves who aim to resolve the political issues peacefully and work regularly to soften the divide between Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. The Good Friday Agreement may still be several years away from being fully implemented, but the hope for peace is very high throughout the island.