Children in loyalist areas are again being manipulated by unionists and Tories to provide the illusion of ‘street chaos’ for their own selfish political agenda.
A loyalist criminal gang hijacked and burned a bus in Newtownards on Monday and initiated street disorder in the Shankill area of west Belfast on Wednesday.
It is believed the disturbances were ‘ordered up’ as a pretext for triggering Article 16 of the Irish Protocol, the so-called nuclear option intended to explode relations between Britain and the EU over the return of a hard border between the north and south of Ireland.
Masked thugs were reported to have absurdly “muttered something about the Protocol” as they hijacked and petrol bombed the Ulsterbus vehicle in Newtownards, east of Belfast, early on Monday morning.
A claim emerged for the attack under an old cover name, ‘Protestant Action Force’, the name used by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for 41 murders in the North.
Another attempt to generate a disturbing headline followed on Wednesday night when children from the loyalist Shankill, some as young as ten years of age, were encouraged to cause trouble at a nearby sectarian interface.
After a knot of unionist political extremists held up flags and banners against the Protocol, the youths stepped forward to throw fireworks and light a fire on the road near the Lanark Way interface.
Two boys, aged 12 and 15 years, were arrested as the loyalist crowd were dispersed. The scene recalled a more serious protest at the same location in April.
On Friday, a southern (County Louth) registered car was also burned out in what appeared to be an opportunistic hate crime in the same area.
Despite reports of homes coming under attack on the nationalist Springfield Road, republicans from across the political spectrum again urged residents not to respond to the provocations. Sinn Féin’s Pat Sheehan condemned them as “dangerous and irresponsible.. with the sole intention of heightening tensions and causing trouble.”
There was also criticism of the PSNI’s attempts to whip up trouble by adopting a heavy handed and intimidatory stance against nationalists on the Falls and Springfield Roads on Wednesday night.
“The totally unnecessary actions of the PSNI must be highlighted for what they were: a coordinated and politically motivated stunt to either give the impression that the NI Protocol is impacting and causing trouble to flare on both sides of the divide,” said Anti-Imperialist Action.
The timing of the ‘protests’ is clearly intended to fill Article 16’s requirement of ‘serious societal difficulties’, but even DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson was forced to admit this week the Protocol was “not a priority” for the unionist community.
Donaldson was speaking following the publication of a University of Liverpool survey which found that the post-Brexit trade arrangements are a concern for just one in eight unionists. He explained his continuing threats to the North’s political institutions as due to his party’s “duty” to be “guardians of the Union both today and tomorrow”.
The main beneficiary of the loyalist trouble, however, is likely to be British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose successful ‘Tory bad boy’ image has encouraged him to maintain a simmering conflict with the EU.
It is thought another Tory corruption scandal may have accelerated Johnson’s need for a political distraction and a ramping up of anti-Irish and anti-EU rhetoric. There are growing fears in Dublin and Brussels that Johnson will shortly invoke Article 16, a move that officials say would provoke a “deep crisis”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin issued an unprecedentedly blunt warning to the British government in the Dublin parliament on Wednesday, describing any move to trigger article 16 as “irresponsible . . . unwise . . . reckless”, and saying that it would have “far-reaching implications” for the relationship between Dublin and London.
Speaking at the Sinn Féin annual conference, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill questioned whether the London government wants to solve the issues around the Protocol, or deepen them.
“The new red lines set out by the British government begs the question, do they want a solution at all?” Ms O’Neill said.
The North’s Deputy First Minister said she “reminded the British government this week that a majority in the North see the Protocol as the solution to their Brexit disaster” and reiterated her party’s position that “there is no credible alternative to the Protocol”.