Adding to the world’s sectarian flash points, the British territory of Northern Ireland has roared back into the news, its relative calm punctured by violent rioting among groups that had made peace 23 years ago.
The reasons for the breakdown are intertwined with Britain’s exit from the European Union and the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic. But they have demonstrated the combustible potency of the old feuds between a largely Catholic side that wants the territory to be part of Ireland, and a mostly Protestant side that wants to remain part of Britain.
For more than a week, protests have descended into mayhem in the streets of Belfast, the capital, and some other parts of Northern Ireland, leaving scores of police officers wounded. Rioters as young as 13 have thrown gasoline bombs at the police and set buses afire. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and his Irish counterpart, Micheal Martin, have both expressed deep concern.
“Boris Johnson is wrestling with a problem that is too close to home for comfort: the worst violence on the streets of Northern Ireland for many years,” Mujtaba Rahman, managing director Europe for the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said in an email to clients. The underlying causes, Mr. Rahman said, “were unlikely to be resolved quickly.”
accord known as the Belfast Agreement, also called the Good Friday Agreement or simply the agreement, was reached on April 10, 1998, by the British government, the Irish government and Northern Ireland political parties. It created a governing assembly for the territory designed to ensure power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics, and bodies to ease cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It committed former adversaries to disarm and settle their disputes peacefully. It also permitted residents of Northern Ireland to obtain Irish citizenship or dual Irish-British citizenship.
Years of relative peace followed. Once considered a no-go area for tourists, Northern Ireland became a draw. Its attraction was further enhanced by the creators of “Game of Thrones,” the HBO series, who used its stunning and diverse landscapes as their stage. The show’s April 2011 debut put “the north of Ireland on the map,” said The Derry Journal, a newspaper in Northern Ireland’s second-largest city.
Why is violence surging?
remarks on Saturday, the agreement’s anniversary: “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.”